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Digital Britain needs foresight, not flannel

Lord Carter's Digital Britain interim report fails to challenge or convince. Foresight, not flannel, is needed
Written by Leader , Contributor

Ten years ago, BT launched its first public ASDL trials. For the first time, it was possible for ordinary users to have 2Mbps broadband at home — a rate often faster than they had in the office.

Today, 100Mbps business broadband is a reality and 50Mbps to the home is here. So it is very disappointing that Digital Britain, the interim government report on the country's digital tomorrow, seems content to call for 2Mbps as the only universal access target worth aiming for.

There is much else wrong with the report that puts it at odds with any recognisably successful digital future. It has the musty smell of last century's lobbyists, seeking comfort in the status quo against the uncertainties of change. Look around at the state of the economy if you need reminding how that is no longer an option.

But the lack of vision over the core aspect of basic connectivity is doubly disappointing. It shows little knowledge of the true importance of broadband, and it declines to challenge the industry to do something exceptional.

For while it may be harder work to set the bar at 4Mbps — what we consider the minimum for delivery of acceptable commercial and state services to households — and very challenging to ask for 8, 25 or 100Mbps, it is by no means impossible. We are looking into the future, after all.

It is not too much to ask for a roadmap built on the continual improvement of technology. We know how each new wave of connectivity breeds new services and new expectations, and how pushing towards a goal is in itself a major factor in making that goal obtainable.

The country needs to build a future worth having. That means saying that by 2019, we will have 95 percent access at 100Mbps. We have many technologies that could do this, and much expertise at building infrastructures that work today and could excel tomorrow. We need the skills such a project would create, to compete globally. We need the infrastructure that would result, to build a society and economy that can take advantage of everything tomorrow's digital technology can give us.

Limiting ourselves — and our vision — to what we were doing 10 years ago is no way to create the future. Give us the challenge, and it will be met. Fail, and so shall we.

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