Hewitt: We have a problem

eMinister remains happy the UK is on course for its broadband goals, but industry is not so sure
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

eMinister remains happy the UK is on course for its broadband goals, but industry is not so sure

The government must intervene to sort out the broadband bottleneck or give up on its plans for the UK as a leading Internet nation.

This is the view of the man charged with reporting to the government's newly-created Greater London Authority (GLA) on e-commerce in the capital. Like many other industry commentators Colin Jenkins, on secondment to the GLA from Energis, cannot accept eMinister Patricia Hewitt's view that everything is rosy in the broadband Britain garden.

"I am totally confused by it as are the rest of the industry with the exception of BT and the cable firms. Everyone else is saying there is a major problem," he told ZDNet News. "Lots of surveys show the UK is well behind the rest of the world and I can't see where the miracle happens and we leap ahead," said Jenkins, referring to the government's ambitious plan to make the UK the best place in the industrialised world for broadband services by 2005.

Last month a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) puts the UK near the bottom of the broadband league table and, being a source that the government regularly refers to, it will be the most embarassing challenge to Hewitt's assertions yet.

As the government has coined it in from the auction of 3G spectrum -- accumulating an impressive £22bn to offset the national debt -- Jenkins believes it is time for the government to give a little back. "BT has pointed out that there is little demand for broadband but this is because there are no broadband services. It is a Catch 22 situation and the government must break this loop. It must put some funding back in, whether this be via tax concessions or direct involvement."

Direct involvement could take the form of re-engineering BT, an idea muted already by the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank. Alternatively the government could invest in infrastructure other than BT's. "We have to look over the next ten years and ask how do we get there from here. Coming from the private sector I hate to say it but I can't see how industry can do it by themselves," said Jenkins.

Jenkins is part of a government working party looking at the issue of broadband -- the Broadband Stakeholders Committee -- which he is hopeful will persuade the government to make some radical decisions when it reports back in the autumn. In the meantime he does not share Hewitt's optimism about broadband Britain. "It is pretty bleak. I can't see how we are going to achieve her goal. We won't even be where the rest of the world is."

Is broadband coming to your neighbourhood? Find out with ZDNet UK's Broadband Britain Guide.

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