Government broadband strategy fails to impress

E-commerce minister Douglas Alexander announced on 3 December that the Government plans to speed up the rollout of broadband...

E-commerce minister Douglas Alexander announced on 3 December that the Government plans to speed up the rollout of broadband services across the UK and was immediately condemned by industry organisations for not doing enough.

Alexander set out a "comprehensive package of measures to advance broadband Britain" and highlighted tax breaks, which could cut more than £50 off a typical £260 broadband connection bill.

He also published the Government's response to the first report by the Broadband Stakeholders' Group, established to advise ministers on how to speed the rollout of broadband services across the UK. The Government has accepted 14 of the 15 recommendations made by the group.

Peter Radley, chairman of telecoms equipment maker Alcatel, said: "People must realise that there's no single, magic bullet for delivering broadband Britain. The Broadband Stakeholders' Group argued for a multiplicity of regulatory and fiscal measures, and I'm pleased to see the Government has accepted the majority of our recommendations."

Jim Norton, chairman of the Broadband Stakeholders' Research Group, said: "The next phase involves much detailed work on implementation and turning concepts such as public aggregation procurement into reality on the ground."

However, a spokesman for the Communication Managers Association (CMA) said the measures are too little, too late. "If this is the best the Government can do, the business community has been let down," he said.

In February 2001, the Government set a target for the UK to have "the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 [group of advanced industrialised countries] by 2005".

The UK online broadband strategy document published on 3 December by the e-envoy's department claimed: "Based on our competitiveness index, we are currently in fourth place in the G7, ahead of France, Italy and Germany. With continued infrastructure and retail competition putting downward pressure on prices, we expect to climb up the competitiveness rankings."

However, the document also shows that less than 1% of the UK population has broadband connections, which means the UK trails behind European competitors including France, Germany, Holland and Sweden for broadband access.

"We may rise up the league, but on the face of it the Government's proposals are not going to be enough to put the UK at number one," said the CMA spokesman.

The government promises to:
  • Intensify competition in the broadband infrastructure and service markets.

  • Clarify existing tax measures, which encourage teleworking, and undertake joint government/industry marketing to stimulate new broadband content and applications.

  • Encourage the use of broadband in delivering public services.

  • Encourage the rollout of broadband in rural areas through infrastructure sharing, facilitating satellite broadband rollout and effective management of the public sector's procurement of broadband services.

"There is no individual measure which, on its own, is the answer," said Alexander.

"What is needed is a comprehensive approach that tackles both supply and demand for broadband services. This strategy provides that routemap to progress this agenda."

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