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Universal broadband to take three more years

Providing universal access to broadband speeds of a minimum of 2Mbps will take until 2015, three years longer than Labour had predicted, the government said yesterday.

DCMS culture minister Jeremy Hunt said the previous government had not provided enough money to cover the true cost. He said the government wanted to minimise the amount of public money invested in the network and to leverage it with private investment.

Matt Agar, commercial head of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), said that despite the record deficit, currently around £1.4tr, the government was putting £200m towards the pilot and high speed networks. The government expected the private sector to provide most of the required capital, as it had in Korea, currently the world leader in broadband.

The news came as the government launched a consultation on how to deliver broadband to the country's "not spots" and to speed up access to "superfast broadband", said to be faster than 50Mbps.

The government plans to gather industry thinking by August on how best to provide basic broadband in three "pilot" areas of the country. The ideas will be combined and contracts for pilot networks issued in September. Once proved they would provide models for repeating the process in other locations.

A similar scheme for high speed broadband will begin pilot project in 2011, with commercial roll-outs by 2012.

Hunt said the government was "totally committed" to having the best broadband service in Europe by the end of the present parliament.

Agar said BDUK was developing "heat maps" to show villages that are too far from a BT exchange to receive 2Mbps broadband. These would help network operators to plan their deployments.

So far the heat maps indicated clusters of not-spots. He indicated that BDUK would listen to solutions that tackled the issue on a regional basis.

Hunt said the government was technology-neutral about solutions, and even expected all available technologies to be offered. It was also open to ideas about the type of companies or other corporate bodies that could own and run networks.

He said the government would consider opening the infrastructure of utilities and public sector networks, even those of the Ministry of Defence, if appropriate, to help speed up access to broadband.

Hunt said more details would be posted on the BDUK website.

The closing date for submissions is 16 September 2010.


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