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Government's broadband strategy risks leaving communities behind

The Government broadband strategy's focus on delivering certain speeds risks leaving people and businesses in areas of the UK behind, according to a report published today by the House of Lords Communications Committee.

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.

You can read a copy of the Committee's report, Broadband for all – an alternative vision, on the Committee's website.  You can also view a YouTube video of Lord Inglewood talking about the Committee's report.

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