Government backs industry broadband strategy

The government has accepted a list of suggestions from the Broadband Stakeholder Group, but ensuring action will still be a challenge
Written by Tony Hallett, Contributor

The government has responded to suggestions from the UK's Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) and so far the pressure group likes what it's heard.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, e-minister Stephen Timms said: "Broadband in the UK has really taken off over the last year. We now have one of the most competitive markets in Europe -- with a wide choice of technology and some of the lowest prices worldwide."

"I am very pleased to accept the recommendations of the BSG. We are already taking much of the work forward."

The BSG, in its second annual report, made 15 recommendations and the government has broadly accepted all of them. In some quarters the government is still seen as holding back broadband rollout by failing to twist the arm of service providers -- as other countries have done -- and neglecting rural areas, but the BSG is nevertheless encouraged.

BSG chief executive Antony Walker said: "This is pretty positive and shows we are singing from the same hymn sheet. But agreeing to everything doesn't mean it won't be challenging (for them) to deliver on their commitments."

In particular, the government is looking for the public sector to aggregate its demand for broadband in certain areas, with the help of the Broadband Task Force. This makes it economical for service providers -- generally BT, in most areas -- to serve a community, including homes and the private sector.

Walker said this policy is going well but still has "huge challenges". For example, pooling procurement can slow down rollout.

Wireless is another area where the government must move carefully. Broadband local area networks, typically using a strain of the 802.11 standard, are a way of cheaply sharing high speed connections, but carving up spectrum usage can be problematic.

The government has committed funds to make sure of the necessary project management expertise for creating a workable integrated broadband approach.

The BSG's Walker added: "We don't need a tsar or someone else evangelising. They have good people in their team already but they are simply over-worked."

E-minister Timms pointed out that over 32,000 people and businesses are signing up to broadband every week in the UK right now and more than 70 percent of the population can get a high-speed connection.

On Thursday, analyst house Datamonitor forecast that broadband will soon become a mass-market phenomenon across Europe.

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