Information superhighway in the slow lane?

Confirmation of the need for the UK government to take a more proactive line [registration required; limited viewing time] with its broadband policy has come in a press release recorded on I’m going to be a little circumspect here since I can’t find anything on the websites of the two major organisations involved – the Fibre to the Home Council Europe and Heavy Reading.

Nevertheless, the press release records research produced for the Council by Heavy Reading which concludes that the UK would be the last nation in Europe to reach what it calls ‘fibre maturity’ and which it defines as being 20% of homes connected to fibre networks on a FTTH basis (as opposed to Fibre to the Cabinet – FTTC). The research records that the UK will not reach this figure until 2020, some 2-4 years later than France, Germany and Italy, and that unless the UK gained greater momentum behind FTTH, there was a danger that this lagging behind would have a ‘serious long-term negative effect on the national economy.’

The report looks a little behind the times, not least because BT’s announcement last month of its extended investment in fibre, taking roll-out to two-thirds of UK homes by 2015, indicated that one in four homes would have fibre to the home solutions: this would indicate about 17%, so not far off ‘fibre maturity’ some five years before the figure indicated by the Heavy Reading report.

It’s perhaps not so much of a surprise that a report for the Fibre to the Home Council calls for expanded investment in FTTH – well, NSS. But in political terms, it continues to be worth highlighting its concern that the government cuts programme will push FTTH investment to the sidelines, as well as the policy issues which have contributed towards inhibited fibre investment. Its articulation of the current lack of a clear funding mechanism for local authorities to bring fibre to rural areas that are not likely to attract commercial operators, and that the government has a key role in facilitating investment, as well as in bridging the digital divide, also adds to its credibility.

Cuts in government expenditure will have a knock-on effect on the ability of the private sector to finance ambitious investment programmes – and a prolonged period of austerity will itself freeze investment. The government needs to recognise that such a time will have a major impact on the ability of the private sector to achieve what ambitions the government has for the timely coverage of high-speed broadband networks.

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