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IT managers urge new broadband minister to push for equal access across UK

John-Paul Kamath

IT managers have called on the government's new broadband minister to ensure all regions in the UK have equal access to fast connections.

Shriti Vadera replaced Stephen Timms in the post of communications minister at the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform in January.

Timms had been in talks with internet service providers (ISPs) in November about how to improve broadband access in the UK. IT managers are keen for Vadera to keep the momentum going.

Richard Steel, CIO at the London Borough of Newham, said he wants to see the principle of universal access provision applied to broadband in the same way it has been applied to telephone connections, so broadband is not deployed only to areas according to commercial return.

John Logie, a manager at First Engineering, a company that designs railways, said Vadera should ensure all businesses are able to access broadband at a line speed of their choosing.

"One issue I would like to see raised is BT's refusal to address performance/line speed problems with households/businesses that are more than x miles from a switch. Given that most network providers use BT lines from the switches to the end point there is no way round the problem," he said.

IT managers also want the minister to take a hand in clearing up how broadband is advertised and sold. "The definition of services should be clear and it should be mandatory for the provider to publish the number of customers/volumes they carry over individual connections. You should be able to see the contention," said David Bason, IS director at law firm Shoosmiths.

David Bradbury, IT manager at Ashton Graham solicitors, said the minister should ensure that firms pay for only the connection speeds they get and switching should be easy if the service is not up to scratch. Rolling out faster fibre connections also ranked as a priority.

"The minister should get more funding to enable fibre to every home and business in the country. The cost for this has been estimated at under £15bn. The cost of one and a bit Olympic games or 25% of a Northern Rock," he said.


The minister faces the challenge of maintaining ISP investments in faster networks while balancing equal access.

"Vadera has a tough job in this area ­ broadband providers are unlikely to welcome new regulation, whereas it seems private investment in networks is not likely to grow significantly of its own accord," said Jimmy Desai, technology partner at law firm Blake Lapthorn Tarlo Lyons.

Neil Berkett, CEO of broadband provider Virgin Media, said at a government conference on broadband last month that the government¹s current "hands-off" approach to regulating investment in broadband was the right one and warned off intervention.

 


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