E-commerce minister Stephen Timms is beginning to turn his attention to the challenge of rolling out broadband services much faster than those generally available today.
Speaking at the Revolution at the Edge: Broadband Networks and Innovation conference in London on Wednesday, Timms said that spreading the fibre that can carry high-speed broadband will become an increasingly important part of his work
"We don't yet have a clear roadmap to a future where there is fibre everywhere. We need to start work on that roadmap," Timms said.
"I look forward to that debate being a serious one, following the great progress that has been achieved recently in the UK broadband sector," explained the minister for energy, e-commerce and postal services.
At the moment, more than 85 percent of the population can get a broadband connection of about 512 Kilobits per second (Kbps) or faster -- either from an ISP reselling BT's wholesale ADSL services, or from NTL and Telewest, or from a community broadband service.
In some places, faster services are available, such as the 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) ADSL sold by some ISPs, Telewest's 2Mbps cable broadband product, and Easynet's 8Mbps ADSL product.
While the focus in recent years has been on increasing the availability of these basic broadband services, there is growing concern that the UK isn't paying enough attention to the much faster broadband services being rolled out in other countries.
For example, in Switzerland, Austria and Italy, Metro Ethernet services are being deployed -- giving users several Megabits per second of connectivity along with services such as video-on-demand and very fast back-up facilities. In Wienstrom, Austria, a Metro Ethernet project is providing 1,000 subscribers with 10Mbps links.
Although BT is understood to be taking a serious interest in Metro Ethernet as a way of offering business broadband services, no large-scale deployments of the technology are thought to be imminent in Britain.
Timms told the ABC conference that if the government did set itself new goals for the deployment of faster services, as it has been recently advised by the Broadband Stakeholder Group, it could well use 2010 as its target date.
"2010 is a good horizon if one is working on a manifesto for a future general election -- so there are very good reasons for people like to me to look at that agenda," Timms said.