Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The next steps to a Digital Britain

In the Commons this afternoon to hear new Secretary of State Ben Bradshaw launch the final report on 'Digital Britain'. Among many important matters, the report dealt with the issue of access to broadband - both at current speeds and at proposed 'next generation' speeds. The key points were:

- to reaffirm a 'universal service broadband commitment' that everyone would be able to achieve 2 Mbps by 2012; this would be based on existing technology such as DSL, 'fibre to the cabinet', new wireless coverage and possibly 'satellite infill'; some of the money for this would come from what looks like being the underspend on the money that the BBC has been given for facilitating the switchover to digital TV;

- recognising that new 'superfast' broadband (eg optical fibre cables) would only ever be commercially viable to deliver to about two thirds of the country; (I hadn't realised that around half the country is cabled and is therefore now on the brink of superfast broadband delivered by Virgin); a strategy was therefore needed for the 'final third'; this is to be funded by a 50p per month 'broadband tax' (though that's not what they call it); companies could then bid for this money (which would raise around £150m per year) in return for delivering superfast broadband to those areas that would be in the 'final third' that would not otherwise be delivered.

In response to the statement I queried whether 2 Mbps obligation by 2012 was really good enough. Whilst that speed would be heaven-sent for some people today who have very poor service, by 2012 I suspect that such speeds will seem wholly inadequate and will again leave people excluded, especially if the next town are getting 50 Mbps on cable. Ben Bradshaw said that the 2 Mbps was the speed needed to use BBC iPlayer and that seemed a reasonable goal.

All of this does mean that a lot of people will start to get much better broadband speeds over the coming years, but, as ever, I can't help thinking that the market towns and villages of South Gloucestershire will end up near the back of the queue unless we are organised and effective in our lobbying.


Matt said...

Thank you very much for commenting on this very relevant matter.

One aspect of the report that you haven't discussed is filesharing.

Could you disclose what your opinion is on the subject and how familiar you are with the the technology?

I would also be very interrested to hear your stance on copyright law in general.

Best regards,

Steve Webb MP said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the comment. I wouldn't say I was an expert on filesharing. At its best my impression is that the technology can be used in very positive ways, but if it's simply used to circulate pirate copies of films etc., with a risk also of spreading viruses etc., then this would concern me. Do let me know what you think?

Steve W.