Following the publication of the Government’s report on Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future in December 2010, the Parliamentary Yearbook has been closely following progress for major features in the next edition
The Department for Culture, Media and sport is responsible for broadband policy and delivery.
They are committed to delivering the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 and to do this Government:
- has allocated £530 million during the current Spending Review period to stimulate commercial
- investment to roll out high speed broadband in rural communities
- will invest £150 million in ‘super-connected cities’ across the UK
- will invest up to £150 million to improve mobile coverage in the UK for consumers and businesses that live and work in areas where coverage is poor or non-existent
Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), a unit within DCMS, is responsible for managing the Government’s broadband funding. Individual projects are the responsibility of local authorities and the Devolved Administrations, as set out in BDUK’s delivery model.
The ambition is to provide superfast broadband to at least 90 per cent of premises in the UK and to provide universal access to standard broadband with a speed of at least 2Mbps.
However earlier this week, in a report published by the House of Lords Communications Committee, it is suggested that the Government’s broadband strategy, focussing as it does on broadband speed, risks leaving communities, people and businesses in areas of the UK behind.
The Committee say that the Government is preoccupied with speed rather than focusing on access and the imperative of creating a ‘future proof’ national network which is built to last. As a result, the Committee are concerned that the Government’s investment in this area could be a tremendous missed opportunity, albeit that it is not too late to change course. As part of an alternative approach, the Committee argue that policy in this area should be driven by the need to arrest and ultimately eliminate the digital divide – rather than deliver enhanced provision for those with already good connections. Fundamentally, the Committee report that broadband provision should be considered a key part of our national infrastructure, and propose a new vision that focuses on enabling access and reducing the digital divide. The realisation of the Committee’s proposal lies in the creation of a robust and resilient national network, bringing open access fibre-optic hubs within reach of every community. Open access to these fibre-optic hubs would provide a platform for local communities and businesses to access the broadband provision they want in the short term, and to upgrade that access flexibly as needs evolve over time.
Commenting on the report, Committee Chairman Lord Inglewood said:
“The Government is quite right to make broadband a policy priority – barely an aspect of our lives isn’t touched in some way by the internet, and developments look set to continue apace in the future. A whole host of services will increasingly be delivered via the internet – including critical public services – and without better provision for everyone in the UK this will mean that people are marginalised or excluded altogether. If broadcast services move to be delivered via the internet for example, as we believe they may be, then key moments in national life such as the Olympics could be inaccessible to communities lacking a better communications infrastructure.
“Our communications network must be regarded as a strategic, national asset. The Government’s strategy lacks just that – strategy. The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the Government’s policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come.”
The Committee also recommend:
- That Ofcom actively considers changes to several aspects of the regulatory regime
- The Government should undertake a detailed costing of the Committee’s proposal, not least because it removes the final mile – the most expensive per capita component of the network – from the costs requiring public subsidy
- That the Government pay urgent attention to the way public funds are being distributed, particularly the operation of the Rural Community Broadband Fund
- The Government & industry should consider the long term possibility of switching terrestrial broadcast from spectrum to the internet
The Parliamentary Year book will continue to monitor and report on progress as we go through the months ahead.