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Britain’s Broadband Bust

Posted by Andrew at 2:43 AM on July 16, 2010

The British Government has confessed that it doesn’t have sufficient money to meet the deadline of 2012 for a 2Mb/s broadband universal service.   This commitment had been made by the previous government but was reconfirmed by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, only last month in his speech at the Hospital Club in London.  He further said, “Our goal is simple: within this parliament (2015)  we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe.”

However, speaking at the Broadband Delivery UK conference yesterday, Mr Hunt admitted that there was insufficient funding in place for these commitments and was pushing back the deadline for the 2Mb/s universal service to 2015 with no deadline for the superfast broadband.   Only £175 million had been set aside as surplus from the Digitial Switchover project.

BT estimated that to equip Britain with superfast broadband will take £2 billion of public money and it has already invested £2.5 billion of its own money  in fibre networks that will reach around 2/3rds of British homes.  The additional money is needed to connect up those for whom it would be currently uneconomic to reach.

This also makes it difficult for the Government to fulfil the digital inclusion promises made on Monday by the UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox.  Announcing the Manifesto for a Networked Nation last Monday, it sets the ambition that everyone of a working age should be online by 2015 and that no-one should retire without web skills.

The Manifesto also estimates that 10 million adults in the UK have never used the internet for reasons of motivation, access and skills.  Nearly 4 million of these 10 million adults are over 65.  Rural and coastal areas have the highest concentrations of over 65s who don’t use the internet.

Considering also that the supporting quango Digital Public Service Unit was closed down before it even got started, it’s no surprise that the Manifesto is looking to industry and charities as well as government to meet the ambitions.

Further, as reported in GNC previously, UK internet users have grown by 2 million in the last year , expecially in the over-50s.  This suggests that the issues of motivation and skills appear to be resolving themselves and that the only restricting problem is that of access to broadband, fast or otherwise…..which the UK Government doesn’t have any money to help with.

Nothing like a bit of joined-up thinking.

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