Event report – Connectivity in the modern age: Should adequate internet access be regulated and guaranteed like a public utility?

 

Pictfor hosted a panel discussion in Portcullis House as part of the Parliament and Internet Conference, which took place on 27 October 2016. Coming together to discuss ‘Connectivity in the modern age: Should adequate internet access be regulated and guaranteed like a public utility?’, the panel included:

  • Chair: Matt Warman MP, Co-Chair of Pictfor
  • Simon McCalla, CTO, Nominet UK
  • Jessica Lennard, Director of Corporate Affairs and Regulation, TalkTalk
  • Brian Potterill, Director of Competition Policy, Ofcom
  • Dana Tobak, Founder and Managing Director, Hyperoptic
  • Kip Meek, Director of Public Policy, EE

Pictfor Co-Chair Matt Warman MP served as the panel Chair. He opened the discussion by asking how the UK can lay the foundations for a reality that goes beyond meeting targets to universally deliver connectivity. He introduced Simon McCalla, the CTO of Nominet UK, who outlined the importance of connectivity and fair access. Simon stated that both freedom and innovation are central to the discussion.  He stressed the importance of developing a culture of innovation to deliver the best connectivity throughout the UK. He noted that connectivity issues range from rural geographic issues to those experienced in London, and advocated that a dynamic solution will be important for those that broadband cannot reach. Simon closed his remarks by emphasising that connectivity is an important element towards fostering a successful digital economy.

Jessica Lennard, Director of Corporate Affairs and Regulation at TalkTalk, called for further ambition in the debate about UK connectivity. She argued that the UK is reaching a crisis point, demonstrated by the number of people unhappy with their current connectivity options. She went on to advocate that this means that current business models are not good enough. Jessica called for full-fibre connectivity to support consumers and help the economy remain strong. She advicated that Ofcom currently has an opportunity to prove its strength and that she was in support of a bold policy-making regulator.

Brian Potterill, the Director of Competition Policy at Ofcom, argued that creating universal service is not about ensuring that everyone has continuous access to 10mb per second, and that there are many dimensions to connectivity. He supported the idea that fibre is the answer to long-term connectivity challenges. Brian said that Ofcom are doing what they can to improve fibre. He also advocated that connectivity solutions are not one size fits all, as geography is an import aspect. He ended his comments by stating that Ofcom’s role is to support the government-created policy of universal service.

Dana Tobak, Founder and MD of Hyperoptic, advocated that if the UK wants to create a full-fibre society then we should explore getting investment from people, organisations and agencies. She highlighted Sweden as an example of a different connectivity model where people pay towards installation. Dana outlined Hyperoptic’s ambition to increase its market share and the role that regulation, by Ofcom, would have to play in this.

Kip Meek, Director of Public Policy at EE which is part of BT group, echoed Simon McCalla’s points on the importance of innovation, arguing that innovation is delivered by the market. Kip said that he would like to see Ofcom working with the market to deliver government targets without an over-reliance on regulation. He ended his remarks by welcoming the target of universal service.

Matt Warman MP asked the panel to give their views on whether the UK is sufficiently equipped for the Internet of Things. Simon McCalla responded by advocating that the Internet of Things will require innovation beyond fixed lines which is why, in his view, we need to lay the foundations for fibre. Jessica Lennard advocated that competition will be useful in achieving the connectivity required to support the Internet of Things.

Matt Warman MP also asked the panel what the likely cost of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would be. Kip Meek highlighted that BT is prepared to deliver universal service. Jessica Lennard responded by asking if any one company can take USO alone. Brian Potterill added his view that any minimum standard needs to take into account reliability more than bandwidth.

Matt Warman MP thanked all the participants and closed the session.

Click here for the list of those who attended. 

If you would like further information on this topic or about Pictfor’s programme of events, please contact admin@pictfor.org.uk.

Please note: This document includes the minutes of the meeting. This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.

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