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Broadband Access: Getting Sensible about Digital Britain

The government this week said that they hope to provide access to the Internet to over 7 million people who can’t get online today…by 2014.

You have to ask what’s the point!?

It’s so exciting when you come across announcements such as that made by the Government this week saying that they are attempting to get over 7 million people who can’t get online today, access to the internet. By 2014!

This is of course great news!

The plan is being underpinned by funding in a number of areas

  • Up to £12m to support the Plan through work of the Consortium for the Promotion of Digital Participation (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
  • £300m for the Home Access programme to provide free computers and internet connections to 270,000 families with school children (Department for Children, Schools and Families)
  • £30m over three years for UK Online Centres under the Smarter Government initiative.

The release also reiterates the Government’s Universal Service Commitment which will pave the UK’s networks with good quality broadband so by 2012. Every home and business will be able to access a connection capable of at least 2Mpbs. BIS words, my italics.

Just a couple of questions really. The £300m will get roughly a million people online (assuming the 2.3 kids per couple which is what it was when I was a nipper but may have changed!). So that’s another 6 million to go? £42m would appear to be on the light side to get that additional number of people online.

But perhaps the 2Mbps USC by 2012 will do it?  We are well into 2010.  Time moves fast in this life. There isn’t a viable proposition on the table to be able to meet this USC. It isn’t going to happen with the current plans in place.

BT for example does it’s network capacity planning on a 2 year horizon. Even with a surprise injection of Government funding the roadmap is almost in place now up until the end of 2012. I know things can change but…

The panacea straw known as BET, grasped at by the government, will blow away in the wind. It has not excited those that live and love amongst the haystacks because it is too expensive and in any case is an “up to 2Mpbs” service, not an “at least 2Mbps” service.

All the statements we get regarding Digital Inclusion and Universal Service Commitment are well intentioned but there does come a point in time where you have to get serious about it and I don’t believe what we are seeing happening now is “getting serious”.

We need a real commitment to making this happen. It needs a Government Department of its own with strong support and a leader that understands the issues and can champion the cause.

Now it is easy for me to say this. I am not in Government and don’t have to make the difficult decisions. Where does the money come from for example?

What I am sure of though that it is the right thing to do.

The current Government machinations are just noises being made in the run up to a general election. They run the risk or rushing things through and making mistakes, as is being seen to happen now with the Digital Economy Bill.

The only sensible thing to do is call a General Election now, reset the clock on legislation and get on with making Britain Digital with a proper sense of purpose.

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

4 replies on “Broadband Access: Getting Sensible about Digital Britain”

After yesterday’s fiasco phoning round multiple govt departments (DCMS, Defra, BIS, Communities etc) to find someone who knew something (anything!) about the Analysys Mason report, I heartily agree that we need to stop the multi-agency game.

We need a single agency who takes full responsibility, has an appropriate budget to do the job (once clearly identified), and who are not courted by ill-informed quangos and think tanks but learn from experience from other nations, consumers, communities and EXPERTS!

The USC is a joke and hopefully if enough noise is made, the EU Commission may put a stop to it not being what it needs to be – a USO.

As for the rest of the spend, put in a decent infrastructure and then buy slots on the great British TV and radio stations to educate the populace through a medium that the majority at least understand. If they can do funky things that are not possible over bog standard broadband, with help from peers and neighbours etc, then they’ll get IT.

Just dishing out computers and internet connections will achieve minimal results, unless there is also a plan to set up the equivalent of an NHS Direct (ITDirect) phone line to help people out when the PC blue screens, the router defaults to factory settings in a power cut, they get phished, a virus hits, or …or…or…

Good summary!

Not a lot to add, but agree Lindsay. Something like ITDirect is a “must have” as part of Digital Britain. The tech-savvy amongst us get frustrated when our PC does something unpredicatble …. how do we expect those just finding their way onto the “information superhighway” to cope?

It is all possible, but NOT on the budgets or with half-hearted commitments.

think BDUK must have read your posts! today 15th July they had their industry day, and luckily they haven’t fallen for the BET solution and are pushing to help the hard to reach areas as we hoped. This will stimulate investment both in the final third and in urban areas, the telcos will be worried the new rural networks will pinch their customers. I think whoever is running bduk is pretty damn smart.

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