MP slams 'confusion' of UK broadband strategy

Uncertainty about how the government will broadband-enable the public sector is putting off some local communities from taking the DIY approach, warns Sir George Young MP

Confusion over the details of the government's broadband strategy is hampering the rollout of broadband in rural areas, according to a senior politician.

Sir George Young, Conservative MP for North West Hampshire, believes that a lack of clear information about how schools, GP surgeries and primary care trusts will be broadband-enabled is discouraging some people who want a high-speed Internet connection from taking a proactive stance on the issue.

Prime minister Tony Blair announced last November that more than £1bn will be spent over the next few years to bring broadband to the education, health and criminal justice sectors.

This pledge includes providing every primary school with a symmetric 2Mbps connection, and every secondary school with a symmetric 8Mbps connection, by 2006. GPs, though, might only get a connection of 128Kbps.

According to Sir George, the government must be clearer about the details of its broadband strategy, and he has urged Stephen Timms MP, minister for e-commerce and competitiveness, to disclose more information.

"Uncertainty about what the government and the suppliers will do and when is one of the factors that inhibit communities from taking on the daunting task of a 'do-it-yourself' local solution; they are concerned that the effort and expense of the local community will be overtaken by either technology changes or supplier actions," wrote Sir George in a letter, seen by ZDNet UK, to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) last week.

Sir George's concerns stem from the fact that there are several different technologies that could be used to broadband-enable the public sector, including ADSL, cable, leased lines, wireless and satellite broadband.

He fears that, for example, some people will hang back from organising a local campaign to get their local exchange ADSL-enabled because they erroneously believe that it will happen soon anyway so that their local GP's surgery can get broadband.

"It is therefore essential that announcements such as the PM's recent one should be accompanied by clear information as to what is meant in this context by broadband, and what delivery mechanisms are intended. Otherwise, government is simply adding to the confusion," warned Sir George.

However, the government says it is not to blame for any such confusion, and insists that the execution of its strategy is well underway.

According to the DTI, broadband is being rolled out to schools by ten regional broadband consortia -- groups of local education authorities. Also, the DTI says, as the £1bn for public sector broadband was allocated to individual departments it is up to them to decide precisely how to spend it, and on which technologies.

Sir George is far from alone, though. Ironically, the recent surge in broadband advertising by ISPs seems to have resulted in increased awareness among politicians that many of their constituents are extremely concerned that they are stuck on the wrong side of the broadband divide -- and these MPs are demanding answers.

Several communities have already managed to get their local exchange broadband-enabled through local campaigning, thanks to BT's broadband registration scheme.

See the Broadband News Section for the latest on cable modems, ADSL, satellite and other high-speed access technologies, including a comprehensive guide to the best deals out there.

For a weekly round-up of the latest broadband-related news, sign up for the The Broadband Informer newsletter.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.