IT's tepid reaction to Digital Britain report

Businesses and network operators have remained underwhelmed by Lord Carter’s interim Digital Britain report, with critics claiming it doesn't go far enough.


Businesses and network operators have remained underwhelmed by Lord Carter’s interim Digital Britain report, with critics claiming it doesn't go far enough.

The 86-page draft report, unveiled yesterday, presents a 22-point action plan for the UK's digital transformation, including an ambitious target for the government to make 2Mbps broadband available to every house in Britain by 2012.

But the report has been met with a tepid response, and some industry pundits have called for more detail on funding and network capacity, as well as clarity on how internet piracy will be controlled.

What about capacity?

Conservative shadow culture minister Jeremy Hunt said he was "disappointed".

"We thought the report was going to contain a strategy. In France and Germany, they are laying fibre. In Japan they already have it. In Britain, the average broadband speed is 3.6Mpbs so what [Culture secretary] Andy Burnham is talking about is getting half the current speed."

Improving broadband for businesses should be a higher priority than extending to to homes, according to Brett Johnson, VP business development at fibre optic connectivity provider AboveNet: “There is still a long way to go in terms of providing adequate connectivity to businesses before we can even imagine delivery to the home.” He warned that the UK was “fast approaching a capacity crunch”.

The Communications Management Association was also disappointed that the report only suggested the minimum threshold of 2Mpbs, instead of mandating it.

The CMA, part of the British Computer Society, said the government needed to ensure that multimedia services, such as video entertainment, does not overburden the UK's telecoms infrastructure, at the expense of content that is more directly associated with the wider economic benefit.

But Paul Lee, research director at consultancy Deloitte, said the speed “should be sufficient for the majority of applications in use today”. Popular applications, such as email, online news and e-commerce “can all be delivered” via such a connection, he said.

How will broadband be funded?

How the industry will fund the costs involved in expanding the broadband network is another point of contention. Carter’s report said that while operators BT and Virgin were extending their high-speed networks, this will cover about half of the population, so other operators would have to pick up some of the costs.

Business leaders at the CBI stressed ministers had to make clear how its plans would be paid for.

"Extended access to broadband for businesses and households has to be the right way forward, but there must be a dialogue between business and government about how this can be funded,” said John Cridland, deputy director-general at the CBI. “The government must also put in place the right conditions for essential investment in next generation broadband.”

Government funding has not been ruled out. British prime minister, Gordon Brown, has promised investment in next generation internet infrastructure that would be "vital" in helping the economy recover and in keeping unemployment low.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group, a government advisory body, said it “welcomes the goal of setting a minimum level of broadband that should be available universally”.

End to the spectrum wars between mobile operators?

The report ordered mobile phone operators to settle a major dispute over radio spectrum, a difference which is preventing the national rollout of wireless broadband. Previously, operators O2 and Vodafone rejected proposals to share their spectrum with rivals. But Carter has said mobile operators must come up with an industry solution - under which they could trade their spectrum holding - or be have their hand forced by a government plan.

O2 has said it would not support anything "that has an adverse effect on our customers or the wider public."

Rival T-Mobile, however, welcomed the report. In a statement Jim Hyde, managing director of T-Mobile UK, said the report puts its finger on a key obstacle - namely inability to use all existing mobile spectrum for 3G and to do so on an equitable, competitive basis.

"We have long argued for this. It is important economically and socially. It would enable the more rapid achievement of the widest high speed mobile broadband coverage and the much more efficient use of the industry's spectrum.

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