E-commerce minister Douglas Alexander insisted on Monday that the government was still committed to making Britain a leading broadband nation, as he accepted all but one of the recommendations made by the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG).
Speaking at a press briefing at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Alexander promised that a range of different actions are to be taken to boost both the supply of and demand for broadband services across the UK. This commitment should see the government working closely with digital content creators, and explaining how such firms can qualify for a "research and development tax credit".
The government will also encourage public sector bodies to aggregate their spending on high-speed Internet services, as a way of driving broadband rollout in the regions.
However, the government has rejected the BSG's recommendation that it should provide tax breaks to encourage investors to supply the money needed to create broadband networks. "The Government does not believe there is a case for fiscal incentives to stimulate infrastructure investment," it responded -- unmoved by the BSG's case that some government action is needed because the telecoms industry is seen as too risky by many investors.
The BSG, which was created by Alexander's predecessor Patricia Hewitt, is made up of some of the leading figures in the UK's business and technology community -- including Jim Norton of the Institute of Directors and Peter Radley, chairman of Alcatel. It is chaired by Alexander, and its role is to advise the government on how to achieve its goal of creating the "most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005".
Broadband take-up is a "meaningless" target
One journalist suggested to Alexander and representatives from the BSG that it would be more sensible to set a target related to the take-up of broadband, rather than involving more vague terms such as "extensive and competitive". E-Envoy Andrew Pinder rejected this suggestion, insisting that "broadband take-up is a meaningless target for the government to aim for." Jim Norton agreed, and compared broadband services to motor cars. "The way to encourage interest is to make sure there are destinations that people want to visit, and pleasant scenery for them to look at," he said. Cynics would suggest that the government has more chance of achieving its target if it avoids any mention of take-up. According to the BSG's figures from August 2001, Britain was bottom of the G7 when it comes to broadband take-up, with a meagre 0.01 percent of the population renting broadband services -- compared to 0.28 percent in Canada, which tops the table. When it comes to competitiveness and extensiveness, Britain is ranked at a more respectable fourth and fifth respectively. See the Broadband News Section for the latest on cable modems, ADSL, satellite and other high-speed access technologies. Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the Telecoms forum. Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.