Next Phase of Superfast Broadband Announced

The Government has announced its ambitions for the UK to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015.

Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Olympics, Culture, Media and Sport, has started the ball rolling by saying that there should be a ‘digital hub’ in every community in the country as part of the coalition Government’s £830 million strategy.

The new plan is a deviation from the previous Government’s ambitions, which were labeled as "pitifully low" by Hunt. The Labour government had promised a minimum of 2Mb broadband to every home by 2012 despite Britain apparently lagging behind a number of European countries. South Korea’s broadband network has been singled-out as a benchmark with the country’s aim to roll out a 1Gbps service by 2012, that’s 500 times faster than the UK’s aspirations.

South Korea has one of the best superfast broadband networks in the world with around 90% investment from the private sector and the remaining 10% from the Government. The UK wishes to mirror this in order to boost GDP and increase employment from faster internet. Hunt says that:

"Our digital industries already generate 10% of our gross value added – around £130bn – and already employ around 6% of the UK’s workforce, more than 1.7m people. And they have already demonstrated their incredible potential by growing through the downturn."

National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) believe that around 600,000 jobs could be created and the London School of Economics has previously estimated that spending £5million on UK Broadband will create 280,000 new jobs, some 70,000 of those being in the non-digital sector.

Whilst the previous Government’s figures may have been seen as "pitifully low" there was also a statement by Hunt on Radio 4’s Today programme indicating that only half the money for the 2Mb rollout had been available. The coalition had apparently "found" the remaining money by diverting some of the BBC’s digital TV rollout funds to the new superfast broadband programme. It was noted that whilst the new Government had "raised the game" it had also delayed the target date.

The whole project hinges on the availability of fibre connectivity and the FTTH (Fibre To The Home) initiative has been compromised by the new, shorter, FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) which leaves the remaining connection to the home over a copper cable. (See Fiber to the x) The full cost of FTTH would have cost an estimated £29Bn.

Despite this drive 180,000 homes can’t access broadband and an estimated 9 million British adults have never used the Internet. The Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) initiative intends to primarily bring broadband to remote communities, homes and businesses and a number of pilot schemes are under way to test the effectiveness of bringing broadband to rural communities.

For further information read the Britain’s Superfast Future report (PDF).

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