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Baroness Turner of Camden: I rise to support my noble friend's amendment. As my noble friend Lord Lea indicated earlier, we had a meeting prior to this Bill with the unions involved in the industry. It is quite clear from those exchanges that the unions representing employees are very keen on broadband.
Lord Lucas: I am delighted to join the two noble Baronesses opposite in supporting the amendment. I am a regular user of broadband. I rely on it for my business. It is one of the reasons I have to live in London. If I were to move outside London, broadband would not be available to me. In the particular place where I might go to live in the country there would be difficulties in terms of getting broadband. No one is trying to make it happen.
The only opportunity to try to do something about the lack of availability of broadband in a small local exchange is to sign up on the relevant website. It is extremely difficult to get a campaign going among the users of that exchange. The cost of making an exchange broadband capable is a matter of a few thousand pounds. Some £10,000 or £15,000 would be sufficient for almost any rural exchange. If you can get together the people locally who would need the service and benefit from it and organise them to help BT subsidise the cost of that service, it can be done. But
Lord Avebury: I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is the noble Lord aware that the sign-up campaign which he mentioned has worked extremely well in some areas, for example, in North Walsham where people got together privately and persuaded enough users to sign on at the website? They have now just achieved the breakthrough number which allows them to be connected to broadband. That will happen in July.
Lord Lucas: It can be done if there is sufficient impetus locally and someone is prepared to devote time to the matter. But the process ought to be assisted by the authorities. It is an absolutely vital part of the regeneration of the countryside that it should be possible for technologically aware businesses to be located there. To have such a process pushed and supported by BT and Ofcom would be much more satisfactory than having a situation where in certain parts of the countryside there happens to be someone with the time, initiative and knowledge to make it all happen. Ofcom and BT between them could make the whole process happen much faster.
The Government could be helpful tooin areas which are technologically difficult from the point of view of ADSL along fixed copper cablesin opening up the radio spectrum. They have not allowed BT to proceed with experiments with wave bands which would allow a reasonable coverage. You can get radio systems where the coverage is quite short. However, something which would stretch 20 kilometres or so and could be used as a wide area network happens to be occupied mostly by bits of the Government that they do not want to talk about. They do not seem inclined to let it go. But it is essential that the Government have an imperative to make broadband available in all parts of the country where it is commercially sensible to do so and that the Government are behind it and that the momentum of government is behind it. Without that, large parts of the countryside will become inoperable from the point of view of running a business there. That is not a sensible basis for government policy. Therefore, I entirely support the two noble Baronesses opposite.
Lord McNally: I want to support the amendment briefly. It has emerged in a number of areas, including disability, that we are within touching distance of real revolutions. In the case of broadband, there could be a gap between what hard-headed and hard-nosed businessmen will do, looking at shareholder value or some other priority, and the broader national interest.
Much of the evidence that we received showed that the opportunities that the rollout of broadband offersit is often in the rhetoric of the Prime Minister and other Ministersneed a push from the Government. However, if there is a push from government, there will be an enormous beneficial
Things seem constantly beyond our grasp, however. One has seen so often in other areas that there is the technology and the national demand, but there is insufficient government initiative to build the bridge between them. Therefore, I welcome the amendment, too.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: We did indeed. I thought that I had made the Government's support for broadband clear when I responded to the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. I hope that I made it clear that the Government are committed to making broadband available across the country. There are plenty of examples of the initiatives that we are undertaking. The East England Development Agency ran the "Connecting Communities" scheme, with 102 applicants at the close of the application period on 30th April. Act Now in Cornwall is using EU structural funds, and 13 exchanges have been ADSL-enabled as a result. I am sure that there are many more, but I do not have time to recollect them.
There is no doubt about our commitment to broadband. The trouble is that I have to address the amendment, and I have to do so in relation to Clause 61, which relates to must-carry obligations. The clause implements Article 6(1) and Condition 6 of Part A to the annex of the authorisation directive, and Article 31 of the universal service directive.
For the time being, there are no Community obligations in relation to broadband. I wish there were. The Commission will review the requirements periodically, starting in 2005, but at the present stage of the development of communications services, there is no Community requirement, and we could not include a requirement relating to broadband in the Bill. That does not mean that we cannot do everything that we can ourselves, quite apart from the amendment, on the subject.
What would be added to the list of features for the universal service order is not of the same character as the others, which are the essential core characteristics of modern electronic communications systems. The Bill cannot specify the technological characteristics of future services in setting the requirements, and the legislation has to last for a number of years. Even if we were to include technological parameters, "ever-greater bandwidth" is not a single technological development that we might want to promote by specifying in statute.
In any case, I am not sure that bandwidth is the right word to use in legislation. I tremble in the presence of the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Avebury, but surely a more precise definition than greater
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I thank my noble friend Lady Turner and the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord McNally, for supporting the amendment. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the information that he gave us about the sign-up campaign. I was pleased to hear that that is happening successfully in parts of the country.
The noble Lord said: The amendments are concerned with the pricing of services that must be provided under the universal service conditions. As I understand it, that currently means fixed narrow band telephony and associated services, public call boxes and directory inquiries, which are provided by BT and Kingston Communications in Hull. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to issue guidance in the universal service order about the pricing of those services. The Select Committee pointed out that that does not accurately reflect the division of responsibility between regulators and member states in articles 9 and 10 of the universal service directive. A few minutes ago, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, emphasised that Part 2 does nothing more than implement the four directives and that was the basis of the Bill. It is therefore important that the Bill should accurately reflect what is in the directives. The committee said unambiguously that in this case it does not do that. I noticed that the government response to the Select Committee report carefully omitted references to articles 9 and 10 of the universal service directive.
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