Five questions answered on Ofcom’s broadband changes

Is it really going to change things that much?

Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK, Ofcom, has proposed new measures that they say will improve broadband deals for consumers. We answer five questions about the proposal.

What are the main proposals Ofcom is making?

In order to promote competition among providers and pass on savings to the customer, the regulatory body is proposing to cut the costs paid by broadband providers when switching customers, as well as shortening the minimum length of contracts.

It wants to cut the cost of switching to between £10 and £15, as well as reducing the minimum contract length to one month.

Currently, providers who use BT's superfast Openreach network must pay BT £50 if they want to switch a customer on to their service.

What has prompted these proposals?

In a recent report, Ofcom stated that upgrading from regular broadband connections to superfast – which is delivered through fibre-optic cables – was cheaper and is becoming increasingly popular. However, it said that switching from one user to another is expensive.

What has BT said about Ofcom’s proposals?

In a statement BT, which offers the BT superfast Openreach network, said it welcomed the plan: "We are pleased that Ofcom is maintaining pricing freedom for Openreach's fibre products.

"BT has already accepted a long payback period for its fibre deployment and its wholesale fibre prices - which are amongst the lowest in Europe - reflect this".

What do the experts say?

Marie-Louise Abretti broadband expert at uSwitch.com, speaking to the BBC said: "Targeting the market at wholesale level - offering monetary savings to broadband providers that are switching people - means it'll be up to ISPs [internet service providers] to make sure that cost savings are passed on to their customers.

"And with providers potentially saving up to £40 per customer, per switch, Ofcom must ensure this happens. We'd hope this move will see often hefty set-up fees scrapped, or at least reduced."

How many people in the UK currently use superfast broadband?

Only around 13 per cent of the UK has superfast broadband connection.

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496