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WE CAN still be BETTER than Germany on broadband, says Ofcom

But forget about most of EU's NEED FOR SPEED

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Comment Britain's communication watchdog has published a pathetic "scorecard" that compares this country's broadband prowess with that of only four other nations in Europe.

The move comes after the British government finally caught up with the idea that it was never going to achieve the unreachable goal of having the "best" superfast broadband service in the European Union by 2015.

This meant that politico rhetoric had to be rejigged with the goalposts moved to make it look like the Tory-led Coalition could still hit its targets.

Everyone can probably blame one-time Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt - who is now doing a good job of dismantling Britain's health service - for setting such an impossible target. Just one month into his appointment in May 2010, Hunt declared that it was the government's "ambition to have Europe’s best superfast broadband by 2015."

However, just before he was kicked upstairs by Prime Minister David Cameron - after being exonerated of allegations of bias in the whole Rupert Murdoch BSkyB bid affair - Hunt was starting to change his tune about that goal.

By the time Maria Miller replaced him last autumn, the Ministry of Fun was effectively looking at softer targets relating to the £530m gov-subsidised rural Broadband Delivery UK programme. The programme has so far seen just one provider - national telco BT - to successfully bid for those funds at a local level.

Mixed messages

One of Hunt's final comments about those plans made it clear that the rhetoric had indeed changed, with the department for culture, media and sport suddenly proclaiming that the government hoped to treat Britain to the fastest broadband network in any "major" European country by 2015.

This led to Ofcom releasing a laughable scorecard today that only compares the UK's broadband deployment with that of France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The watchdog also appeared to agree with Miller's department that it was probably better to only look at a few countries in Europe. It explained:

The factors that affect the development of broadband networks, such as geography, population size and density and legacy infrastructure, differ significantly between the 27 EU Member States. For this reason we consider it more appropriate to compare the UK's broadband network with those in other major European economies than with those in all EU27 countries.

Tits to Latvia, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Belgium, Austria and Romania, then. All of those EU countries were recently found to be ahead of Britain in the broadband speed stakes based on figures collected and published by content delivery outfit Akamai.

Ofcom said [PDF] today that Blighty elbows its way between third and first place among the "major European economies" on all measures of coverage, take-up, usage, price and choice. It did not, however, size up differences in speed in those countries because the regulator said it could not obtain reliable metrics.

In the UK, Ofcom said that its most recent published figure from May 2012 showed that the average download broadband speed stood at 9Mbit/s.

But it's now crystal clear that the government is no longer defining "best" along "superfast" lines. Instead the blinkers are on with the vision narrowed to stop Miller's department getting the frights and altogether bolting. This means that the criterion for "best" is now based on being better than Germany, France, Italy and Spain on coverage, take-up, usage, price and choice.

Ultimately, though, it could also mean that Britain continues to lag behind the likes of Japan, Switzerland, South Korea and Hong Kong when it comes to being a truly "superfast" broadband nation. But then, given Brussels' recent decision to obliterate Neelie Kroes' much-trumpeted Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) project from a proposed budget of €9.2bn to just €1bn, it might actually make sense for the UK to have refocused its target.

A DCMS spokesman told us that his department's plans wouldn't be affected by the budget cut as it hadn't "developed any future broadband plans on the assumption that [the €9.2bn CEF funding] would go ahead". ®

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