Public sector workers 'should get subsidised broadband'

The latest research urges the government to provide broadband vouchers for doctors and nurses, as other MPs warn there is a shortage of broadband champions within Westminster

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers would be given cut-price high-speed Internet connections at home as part of a series of radical proposals published on Tuesday by Centre for Reform, a UK think tank.

The report, called Broadening Horizons: Why broadband matters claims that significant efficiency savings would be achieved by making it cheaper for teachers, doctors and other key workers to sign up for their own broadband connection, meaning the scheme would pay for itself within a few years. It would also boost broadband take-up.

"If we think that a schoolteacher needs broadband in their class or a GP needs it in their surgery, why wouldn't they need it at home?" asked David Stephenson, author of the report. "Why not try and make home working, an essential part of the public professionals' workload, more efficient? Why not deepen those broadband networks into teachers' and doctors' homes, with other professionals coming online as the project develops," Stephenson added.

Under Stephenson's proposal the government would provide a £15 voucher, to be spent on a home broadband connection, every month to any teacher, doctor or higher-education worker. This would cut the amount they would pay to less than £15 per month for a 512Kbps connection, making it cheaper than narrowband.

Broadening Horizons: Why broadband matters, which was sponsored by NTL, is an attempt to speed up the creation of Broadband Britain, by drawing attention to policy failures in government and industry.

It was launched at an event at the House of Commons on Tuesday morning, where several MPs warned that it was wrong to be complacent about the state of the UK's broadband market, following the recent boom in take-up.

"DSL's success can disguise the fact that we have a very bad last mile of network; indeed last few miles," said Richard Allan MP, warning that the connections between local telephone exchanges and individual homes and businesses are often of a poor quality compared to other European nations. This issue is also raised in the report.

"If we had a clearer sense of the situation, we'd be more worried than we are now -- as indeed we should be," Allan added.

Another MP, though, claimed that the current structure of government discouraged innovative broadband schemes.

"Broadband is awfully short of champions within government," said Ian Taylor MP, warning that e-commerce minister Stephen Timms would struggle to persuade other departments of the merits of a scheme such as subsidised broadband for some public sector workers.

"My concern is that when the Department of Trade and Industry is in a fight with another department, such as Health, Education or the Treasury, it lacks the weight needed to get its way," explained Taylor, who was minister of science and technology between 1994 and 1997.

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