It's an existing agreement repackaged as progress, and it's far too slow anyway
Yesterday, none other than The Queen herself spoke up about the state of the UK's broadband, and its ongoing rollout situation.
Her Majesty, delivering the traditional Queen's speech at the state opening of Parliament (and backed up later by the supplementary release of the government's proposed Digital Economy Bill) stated that UK citizens would soon have a "right" to fast broadband, wherever we live in the country.
It sounds fantastic, and broadsheets haven't hesitated in making it headline news. Certain cabinet ministers haven't hesitated in drawing attention to it either, but more on that later.
There are two key problems lurking beneath what otherwise appears a genuinely progressive pledge for the UK's digital economy.
First, the pledge is meaningless. I'm sorry to use that word, but it genuinely is utterly, shamefully, idiotically meaningless. The proposed Bill speaks of a "new Broadband Universal Service Obligation" (USO) and names this, at least "initially", as standing at 10Mbps.
This is exactly the same as the existing "plan" for a USO, and is thus a completely empty statement at best. At worst, it's an attempt by the government - puppeteered through the lips of a potentially bemused 90-year old in a position of high public regard - to significantly pull the wool over the public's eyes.
There's a new mention of "compensation when things go wrong", but speaking of a "right" to something and then backing it up with, essentially, a promise that you'll be paid off with cash but still have slow internet isn't really a demonstrable "right". It's also bound to be impossible to check on a given day.
What's happened here is very much in line with the issue I absolutely refuse to let die: the government is making no adequate provision to cover the country in the fast broadband it needs, but is using the same glaringly obvious failings it persistently denies in a bare-faced spin cycle to try and look - bafflingly - like it's making a success of it.
One of the first people to actively promote the front page of The Times and its "All households get legal right to fast broadband" headline this morning was Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey.
Long-term readers of Computing may be starting to wonder if I have some kind of irrational obsession with this politician. But the truth is I just find the level of spin surrounding the way he handles the broadband rollout he's supposed to be managing utterly unacceptable. This is another great example.
Flagging up the Times headline, I thought, was odd behaviour as what this promise actually does is actively illustrate that the "90 per cent" fast broadband rollout Vaizey claims - and I consistently question - is on such shaky ground that it needs a promise from the Queen, a promise of financial compensation and a promise from Ofcom that it'll actually be delivered at a basic level.
The suggestion is that, on its own terms, the UK broadband rollout is causing such disappointment that the Queen needs to get involved. Yet Vaizey and his government spin-up that promise as progress because it's on the front page of all the important newspapers. It must therefore mean something big for the UK's so-called "digital economy".
If you replaced the word "broadband" with "non-infected drinking water" or "oxygen", it would only serve as a reminder of failure, not success. But because it's techology, and any mention of technology is easily linked with "progress", the fact that the UK is currently enjoying developing world levels of Wi-Fi but the government has earnestly said it wants to improve that, is apparently a palatable statement.
That's the first key problem.
The second is the speed of the promised internet itself. Ten megabits per second is not fast broadband - it's slow broadband.
I live in an area of London where there is still no fibre and, with an average standard broadband connection of 17-18Mbps coming-in to my property, dips in video quality on BBC iPlayer or Netflix are commonplace. Upload speeds, which I need for my work, are a joke at best.
And I'm one of the lucky ones. Since I've started my "incredibly misleading" (according to Vaizey) campaign against the government's lack of interest in broadband infrastructure investment or transparency around its failings, I've been contacted by hundreds of afflicted end users on Twitter, LinkedIn and by email.
With a 10Mbps base line already supposedly in place, or almost in place (it's never officially arrived) a lot of people don't actually have even close to that speed in terms of a functional internet connection.
With a new 10Mbps base line promise in place (if it ever becomes official), those people still won't have any internet, but the government can now be seen to be 'doing something' for a few more years.
Please don't fall for it. The government has injected meaningless, empty words into the Queen's mouth and, until something intelligent (and, to be fair, almost certainly expensive, happens to the state of broadband infrastructure in the UK, areas that fall between the cracks of Whitehall's poster campaign are going to have to cope with the digital citizenship of a person living in around 1993.
That's not a "digital economy" by any stretch of the imagination, and leaves us in a decidedly iffy position on the world technological platform, particularly with the possibility of an EU withdrawal around the corner.
As the rest of the world starts to move ahead with properly connected societies, don't presume the government has your back on this for one second. They'd rather just save as much money as possible, while keeping the spin spinning and the headlines vibrant.
This does not amount to genuine change.