Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Broadband manifesto commitments

From A future fair for all - The Labour Party Manifesto 2010:
“The next stage of national renewal…Build a high-tech economy, supporting business and industry to create one million more skilled jobs and modernising our infrastructure with High Speed Rail, a Green Investment Bank and broadband access for all.”
“Britain must be a world leader in the development of broadband. We are investing in the most ambitious plan of any industrialised country to ensure a digital Britain for all, extending access to every home and business. We will reach the long-term vision of superfast broadband for all through a public-private partnership in three stages: first, giving virtually every household in the country a broadband service of at least two megabits per second by 2012; second, making possible superfast broadband for the vast majority of Britain in partnership with private operators, with Government investing over £1 billion in the next seven years; and lastly reaching the final ten per cent using satellites and mobile broadband. Because we are determined that every family and business, not just some, should benefit, we will raise revenue to pay for this from a modest levy on fixed telephone lines. And we will continue to work with business, the BBC and other broadcasting providers to increase take-up of broadband and to ensure Britain becomes a leading digital economy.”
“Barriers to social mobility will be tackled by giving disadvantaged families free access to broadband to support their child’s learning.”
“The next stage of national renewal...The BBC’s independence upheld; and Britain equipped with a world-leading digital and broadband infrastructure.”
"We are extending broadband access to every business and home, ensuring universal access within a decade to high-speed broadband across the country.”
“Rural businesses and communities must have the broadband connections they need. We are committed to universal broadband access, irrespective of location. The levy on fixed phone lines will pay for expansion of fast broadband connections to rural areas.”
“We want Britain to become a European hub for hi-tech, digital and creative industries – but this can only happen if we have the right infrastructure in place. Establishing a superfast broadband network throughout the UK could generate 600,000 additional jobs and add £18 billion to Britain’s GDP. We will scrap Labour’s phone tax and instead require BT and other infrastructure providers to allow the use of their assets to deliver superfast broadband across the country. If necessary, we will consider using the part of the licence fee that is supporting the digital switchover to fund broadband in areas that the market alone will not reach.”
 And from the Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010:
"enabling enterprise that benefits Britain...Liberal Democrats will...Support public investment in the roll-out of superfast broadband, targeted first at those areas which are least likely to be provided for by the market."
So clear recognition from all three parties of the need for some form of public intervention to support the roll-out of next generation broadband. We've come a long way since the Caio review in 2008:
"The high costs of NGA, and high expectations of what it can deliver, tend to raise expectations in some quarters that the Government should make a major intervention – such as a large subsidy or structural change to regulation – to support the market. However, it is the conclusion of this review that the case for such a major intervention is weak at best."
But have we come far enough? The Caio review also recommended that:
“…the Government and Ofcom, as the two principal entities involved in determining the efficient and effective deployment of NGA, need to play an active leadership role in shaping broadband policies. This does not translate into subsidies or structural changes in regulation, but rather a set of initiatives that could support and inform the activity of regulators and industry players in their journey to NGA. The government should seek to remove obstacles that could potentially delay or compromise the development of the new network.”
Clearly things have moved on, evidenced by this recognition of the need for subsidies and structural change, but does anyone look likely to "play an active leadership role in shaping broadband policies"? The intentions set out above look more reactive than proactive to me; there is still plenty of scope for better leadership in this important area.

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