Brake put on Digital Britain plan

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Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has delayed the roll-out of a 2Mbps broadband network across the UK until 2015

The new UK coalition Government has delayed plans for a Digital Britain with universal broadband speeds of 2Mbps.

Speaking at an industry day organised by Broadband Delivery UK, a policy delivery vehicle within the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said the delay was due to a funding issue that was a fault of the previous Labour government’s Digital Britain proposals.

IHS Global Insight analyst Peter Boyland said this was a “predictable funding failure” after the Government announced it was scrapping the so-called broadband tax.

Boyland said: “The new Conservative/Liberal coalition government recently scrapped part of the act concerning the broadband tax, which proposed a yearly £6 levy on all fixed line connections in the country, to fund the roll-out of infrastructure to remote rural areas where commercial connectivity might not be viable.

“Hunt yesterday attempted to blame the previous administration, saying he was ‘not convinced’ that they put sufficient funding in place, avoiding the fact that funding has been removed by his government, with no contingencies made to replace it.

“The new government made a public display of scrapping the controversial broadband tax, earmarked to connect remote areas – areas which will now have to wait even longer.”

Prior to the start of the industry day, Hunt’s department, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), published its structural reform plan, in which he said: “I want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe, and I will do everything I can to incentivise business to invest in this, so we can get there by 2015; opening up the infrastructure and levelling the playing field for new investment.”

Structrural reform plans are a tool of the coalition government for making departments accountable for the implementation of the reforms set out in the coalition agreement.

The DCMS structural reform plan outlines its intention to examine and remove barriers to new businesses investing in fibre optic networks, as well as deregulation of the infrastructure to require BT and other providers to allow use of their assets to deliver a high-speed network, which will happen by November 2011.

Market testing pilots in rural areas will also be carried out from April 2011, with a decision whether to use part of the TV licence fee to fund delivery to rural areas due in January 2012.

Boyland added: “The UK government is set to cash in from an expected mobile spectrum auction next year, and it must come up with some way of committing these funds now if the UK’s ambitious broadband targets are to be met.

“The government has repeated its rhetoric about the importance of broadband to the UK’s recovery, but has failed to provide any financial incentive to stimulate roll-out.”

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