Ruth Mitchell

Government broadband focus criticised by Lords communications committee

Government broadband strategy risks leaving rural communities behind by focussing on speed rather than reach of service, according to a House of Lords committee.

In a report, the Lords said that the UK could fall behind if the Government fails to treat fast internet services as a key national asset, and Government priority should be the close the digital divide.

However, the digital minister Ed Vaizey was keen to stress that a “lot of public money” was being spent on extending broadband to rural areas.

While the Government has promised to implement the best broadband in Europe by 2015, the Lords believe that this strategy is misguided, with a “a very real risk that some people and businesses are being left behind, that inadequate access to the internet and all its benefits is actually affecting their daily lives”.

The report also stated that: “The delivery of certain speeds should not be the guiding principle; what is important is the long term assurance that as new internet applications emerge, everyone will be able to benefit, from inhabitants of inner cities to the remotest areas of the UK.”

The Lords committee believes that the government should consider consider the creation of a network of fibre-optic hubs to get fast broadband to businesses and local communities when they want it, treating broadband like a vital national asset.

Despite their proposals, the Committee recognised that for some individuals money is tight, and “different people have different requirements for speeds”.

The chief executive of BT OpenReach Liv Garfield was “surprised” that the report was so critical of the new broadband regime.

She commented: “If you look at it across Europe, we have fantastic coverage, we are the most competitive market and we’re seen by many other countries as being the people to follow in terms of broadband access.”

In the 2012 Budget the Chancellor confirmed that 10 cities are set to become “super-connected” as part of a £100 million investment. An additional £50 million has also been set aside for 10 smaller cities.

It is hoped that this investment will provide ultrafast broadband coverage to 1.7 million homes and high speed wireless internet for 3 million by 2015.

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