The UK risked squandering its lead in broadband access, speed and pricing because of delays in formulating long terms broadband policy, former communications minister Stephen Carter said on Thursday.
Lord Carter (pictured), now an executive vice-president for marketing with communications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent, told a Westminster Media Forum that the government's decision to delay the deadline for universal access to a 2Mbps broadband link from 2012 to 2015 would harm the UK's competitive position by delaying investment.
"The UK needs telcos more than telcos need the UK," he said. "Countries are like companies - they can make active decisions about what to invest in."
He said other countries were giving tax breaks to get large scale private investment in broadband networks. They also got breaks for research and development, for innovation and for deployment.
Carter wrote the Digital Britain report that formed the basis for the present Digital Economy Act. Defending his track record, he said communication policy was one of the few positive legacies of the previous government.
"It was a clear view, even if it wasn't always perfectly understood," he said.
He decried the present government's decision to abandon the 50p/month levy on landlines, which was earmarked to extend and speed up broadband access. This money would now come from TV licences, he said.
Based on a year of talks with telcos, now his customers, Carter said they wanted three things: lower capital costs, lower operating costs, and revenue growth, in that order. "They want more for less, and they allocate their capital on a global basis, not country by country," he said.
He suggested that telcos were more interested in the US and Asian markets because of their size and relatively uncomplicated market-places.
He said a single communications regulator for Europe was a sensible idea, but with 27 countries, each with its own regulator, it was unlikely within five years. He suggested that might be too late for this business and technology cycle.
The complexity and consequent delays in Europe could easily lead to the US and Asia overtaking it, and the UK in particular, in terms of access to and application of broadband technology for this business and technology cycle, he said.