LGA calls for flexible minimum standard of broadband speed

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called on the government to create a more flexible minimum standard of broadband speed across the country to stop thousands of homes and businesses from falling into a ‘digital twilight zone’.

The LGA has launched a campaign, Up to Speed, which aims to ensure every resident and business has access to faster broadband. The project involves a new speed test app which enables users to test their broadband and compare it with other speeds in their area.

The news comes as research has shown that almost half of homes and businesses in rural areas cannot reach 10 Mbps, with up to one million presses expected to still be operating without high-speed broadband.

The government has pledged to allow everybody a legal right to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10 Mbps by 2020. Currently, many remote rural areas have well below 2Mbps during key periods such as when children arrive home from school and during the school holidays.

The LGA has welcomed the government’s announcement as a ‘significant step’ in the right direction. However, councils are concerned that the minimum standard could become outdated, claiming that when the national average download speed inevitably rises, the minimum standard will need to increase accordingly. It is predicted that the average household will require a bandwidth of 19 Mbps by 2023.

Councillor Mark Hawthorne, chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: "The government's planned commitment to universal broadband across the country is a significant step forward. However there is a real concern that as the broadband needs among households and businesses in rural areas grow they will be left lagging behind because the national minimum standard quickly becomes obsolete.

"This is why it is paramount the minimum standard is constantly monitored and reviewed and it keeps track with national average speeds and that speeds users experience at peak times are still within minimum standards. Without this there is the real possibility of some areas – particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas - falling into a digital twilight zone. Broadband is a major driver behind growth and jobs and this is about making areas attractive to businesses who wouldn't otherwise locate there. Broadband is also a key way of enabling residents who are housebound to live independently.

"Achieving 10 Mbps should just be the start and something to build on because demand for and availability of faster speeds continues to grow. For the farmer applying for funding, the small business processing its invoices or the GP checking the availability of medicines, broadband is communities' lifeblood.

"Councils are best placed to understand the digital needs of local areas. They are at the centre of improving mobile connectivity through helping implement superfast broadband programmes, organising local initiatives to raise residents' and businesses' digital skills and working with mobile operators to best place infrastructure."