Thank you Virgin…next please!

Merry Christmas! And what better Christmas present could there be than super-fast broadband to watch all your favourite festive TV programmes and movies (don’t forget Mary Poppins!) as well as browse all that wonderful online content while others in the family enjoya mince pie and watch the Queen address the nation at 3 o’clockon the dot (set your Sky+ or watch it on Her Majesty’s You Tube channel). So its a big welcome this week for Virgin’s announcement of the launch of its 50 Megabits per second domestic fibre-optic broadband service (otherwise known as ‘XXL broadband’). Next generation broadband here we come!

Even better news is the announcement that the service will be rolled out across the UK in the next few months. Virgin’s press release is a little unclear as to what this actually means though. Does country-wide mean that those of us that live in the more rural parts of Britain, who have been experiencing life in the broadband ‘slow lane’ for some time now, will suddenly be able to watch streamed video and television with nointeruptions by next summer? Copper has served us well: no one really dreamed up us doing anything more than talking to each other all those years ago. High-definition television was unthinkable then. Today the BBC’s iPlayer and YouTube each take up to 10 per cent of broadband bandwidth (it doesn’t surprise me that Internet Service Providers – squeezed at every level by competition and regulation – are crying out for content providers to put some money in the ‘fibre optic pot’) and we’re goingto need faster internet speeds if we areto continue to enjoy these data-rich services, such as television (perhaps one day in 3D?), video, gaming and music. More importantly, it will be more than necessary if one or more people in a household are accessing these services at the same time, as is fairly likely.

Thankfully, this issue is at the top of the Government’s agenda and this is reflected in the development of a Digital Britain Plan, to be published in June 2009. The regulatory issues around ‘access’ to wholesale products (such as those provided by BT and Virgin) are complex but critical to competition and affordability, but its good to see Virgin taking the lead and making the investment (as – to be fair – BT has also done). The public is crying out for these services and we depend on faster broadband to deliver them to ensure that we…wait for it…have a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious online experience!