‘Digital Britain will be left in the slow lane’


Unions slam Government broadband investment of £830m by 2015

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has slammed the Government’s planned £830 million investment in broadband, claiming the UK will be left behind other countries for online business opportunities.

The Government last week set out plans to invest £830 million for the UK to have superfast broadband speeds of up to 100mbps available to 90 per cent of the population by 2015.

The UK is currently 33rd in the world for average broadband speeds. According to the Government, UK broadband is five times slower that equivalent services in South Korea. The UK average speed is currently 5.2Mbps, according to Ofcom.

The £830 million will be  invested over two parliamentary terms. Around £530 million will go to help rural areas build digital hubs for fibre optic connections, which can be controlled and distributed within a local community.

But the CWU says the investment does not stretch far enough, making comparisons to France, which has recently announced it will invest £570 million in broadband every year until 2025. The Australian government put aside £20.9 billion of investment for superfast broadband last year alone.

The CWU argues a small levy on fixed and mobile phone lines for universal rollout of superfast broadband should be introduced.

General secretary Billy Hayes said: “While the backing for superfast broadband is welcome, the Government is still failing to match Labour’s commitment on funding of a dedicated £1.2 billion Next Generation Fund in addition to other money.

“BT has already made its claim for the tender stating it will match the £830 million from the Government to roll out the ‘community hubs’.

“This Government is raiding the BBC licence fee to top up broadband funding and relying on private investment and competition to make up the shortfall. While BT has taken up the mantle, there is no guarantee other providers will do the same.

“We believe that £830 million over the course of two parliaments is too little funding over too long a period. It falls far short of investment by other European countries. The UK could be left way behind in terms of our communication networks.”

CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr added: “Superfast broadband and access to it is proved time and again to be a major driver for jobs and business. However, the ambition of broadband for all has apparently been abandoned by government.

“Today’s announcement talks of broadband reaching ‘all communities’ not all households. We’re very concerned that this is bad news for rural areas, in particular in Wales and Scotland, which may now never see superfast broadband connections.”

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in the March budget of plans to give every home in the UK broadband speeds of up to 2Mbps by 2012 at a cost of £250 million, with a further £1 billion by 2020.

Labour hoped to receive around £175 million per year by adding a 50p per month levy on all existing landline users to help fund the rollout. The Conservatives have targeted a percentage from the BBC’s existing TV licence fee.