Faster broadband for four million homes
Close to four million homes should get faster internet access under plans announced in the Budget 2009.
Using an estimated £250 million of public money, the government aims to upgrade 3.8 million households with broadband speed of 2 megabytes per second. In his Budget speech, Darling said: “it is vital to ensure the entire country and economy benefits from the digital age.”
And the full Budget report calls for the need of a “strong communications infrastructure”, to build on the country’s “strong wired and wireless digital communications networks” - referring to the vision set out in the government’s ongoing Digital Britain report.
While nine in 10 households can get first generation broadband and six in 10 have already adopted it, the UK still falls behind Switzerland, Korea, Canada, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, in terms of take–up.
Digital Britain’s findings call for continued action to ensure the UK doesn’t start to lag behind.
But Jon Ingram, spokesman for broadbandchoices.co.uk, calls 2mbps “an unambitious target”.
“The UK already lags behind most of Europe and by 2012 the speed will seem very slow,” he adds. “In reality, this kind of government initiative isn’t going to have a material impact on the majority of people, businesses or the wider economy. Commercial operators such as BT and Virgin Media are doing far more in this respect through investment in super fast networks.”
The money will come from the £600 million BBC license–fee pot set aside to pay for vulnerable households’ switchover to digital television or its ‘Help Scheme’. More homes have already made the switch than initially expected, leaving a possible surplus of £250 million.
The BBC Trust released a short statement in response to the budget announcement indicating that it is happy for the money to be used in this way: “The Trust looks forward to working with the government on the most effective and appropriate way to apply licence fee payers' money to deliver this aim."
However, it is still too early to tell how much money will be available until more people have switched over to digital, such as when Granada (and, therefore, north–west England) moves to digital in November this year.