Political parties dangle the broadband carrot


Political parties dangle the broadband carrot

Ian Grant

Access to high-speed broadband networks has become a hot potato for political parties.

Candidates in the upcoming election are using it as a carrot. They promise it will give voters more of what they like, which is mainly better quality television and government services.

The government has discovered it can save £12 a time if it completes a transaction online rather than in person, but only £3.30 if the deal is done on the phone.

Multiplying those figures by the number of appointments booked with doctors, applications for passports and driver’s licences, tax returns etc suddenly makes a lot of sense when the chancellor is trying to fill a £180bn black hole called government debt.

Putting all the government’s day-to-day transactions with citizens online threatens to destroy any number of paper-pushing jobs. To assuage those legitimate fears the government says the new digital economy will create 250,000 new jobs.

Many of these will require skills in programming and manipulation of data and information. Which may give those languishing around with media studies degrees some hope at last.

At a glance        
The parties' views on broadband Labour Conservative LibDems USA
Universal Service Commitment 2Mbps by 2012 2Mbps by 2012 2Mbps by 2012 100Mbps by 2020
Next generation broadband 100Mbps by 2017 100Mbps sooner than 2017 At least 40Mbps by 2017 1Gbps in community sites
Coverage >90% of homes; 100% of homes by 2020 >50% of homes Vast majority of homes 100m homes
How to pay for it BBC digital switchover money for 2Mbps to 97% of homes; 50p/m tax on fixed line phones for next gen Try market solution first, then use some BBC licence fee to underwrite loans to network builders 50p tax on fixed line phones with safeguards for poor and vulnerable, plus funding for "final third" starting in more remote areas first. $7bn under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
What else? Revamp citizen access to government for data and transactions to create consumer demand. Ask ISPs to block websites with unlicensed copyright material. Revise business rates on fibre to remove BT's advantage; open BT's and other utilities' ducts, poles and other infrastructure for third party fibre Use more mobile.wireless, especially in rural areas; better use of spectrum. Encourage service providers to produce things that create demand. 500MHz more radio frequencies; promote competition; give emergnecy first responders national intreroperable wireless access

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