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Comms minister calls for universal broadband access

Lord Stephen Carter says access to broadband could offer 'enormous' benefits for e-government, changing the way it delivers services to the public
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

Universal access to broadband, either though fixed or wireless services, could offer "enormous" benefits for e-government, a government minister has predicted.

Speaking at a Westminster eForum and Westminster Media Forum Keynote Seminar on Digital Britain in London today, Lord Carter, the minister for communications, technology and broadcasting, said the communications sector is at a "turning point", adding that there is a growing realisation the sector offers "a rare ray of light in an otherwise rather gloomy economic sky".

"There is a convergence of need and opportunity that calls on government to make its contribution [to digital infrastructure]," Lord Carter said.

"For some, next-generation fibre is seen as the only answer. For me, I think the reality will be a richer mix, a more dynamic mix of both fixed and wireless provision coupled with a new approach to universality delivered by both current and next generation networks," the minister added.

If the UK has an array of technologies delivering next-gen services, there is an opportunity for the government to change the way it delivers services to the public, he continued.

"We have to ensure that fairness and access for all is more than a soundbite," Lord Carter said, adding: "[Then] we get to a point whereby we can genuinely start writing business plans for the universal delivery of public services through online and digital capabilities and remove the public sector from where it is at the moment — which is trapped between the requirement to provide digital and analogue delivery systems because of the lack of universal participation and take-up."

According to the minister, the potential benefits of universal access for e-government are "enormous".

Earlier in January the prime minister named "digital infrastructure" as a possible area ripe for investment to help the UK through the downturn, with suggestions government spending may be directed towards financing a fibre rollout.

Telcos are already taking steps to fund their own fibre deployments. In July last year, BT announced a £1.5bn plan to bring fibre access to 10 million homes, while Virgin Media recently unveiled a 50Mbps service.

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