Broadband for all - an alternative vision - Communications Committee Contents


There is barely an aspect of our daily lives that is not touched in some way by the internet. The revolution in communications witnessed over recent decades has had a transformative effect on commercial and social transactions creating an information world without frontiers. We have found, however, that there is a very real risk that some people and businesses are being left behind, that inadequate access to the internet and all its benefits is actually afflicting their daily lives, prohibiting them from harvesting the fruits of the information revolution.

The Government are to be congratulated for making enhanced broadband provision a key public policy priority, and progress is clearly being made. It is our contention, however, that the Government have proceeded from a flawed prospectus, that the progress being made may prove illusory. There has been an insufficient focus on properly thinking through questions of first principle, and an absence of an all encompassing vision of pervasive broadband connectivity as a key component of national infrastructure.

Government policy has become preoccupied with the delivery of certain speeds to consumers. This, in our view, has had a detrimental effect on policy-making and the long term national interest. In this report, we propose an alternative vision for UK broadband policy, which, rather than being target driven, makes the case for a national broadband network which should be regarded as a fundamental strategic asset, to which different people can connect in different ways according to their needs and demands. The delivery of certain speeds should not be the guiding principle; what is important is the long term assurance that as new internet applications emerge, everyone will be able to benefit, from inhabitants of inner cities to the remotest areas of the UK. Access to the internet should be seen as a domestic essential and regarded as a key utility. The spectre of a widening digital divide is a profound source of concern which requires the Government to address its origin with greater vigour than we believe is currently the case.

Fundamentally, the Government's strategy has fundamentally focused on the wrong part of the network—broadly speaking the outer edge and the margins, not the centre. We argue that the Government should be focusing on delivering a high spec infrastructure which is future proof and built to last; fibre-optic cable, the most future proof technology, must be driven out as close as possible to the eventual user. Then, as well as mandating open access to this optical fibre from the cabinet to the exchange, we need to ensure that there is open access to links between the exchanges that feed the cabinets, and to the higher level links into national and global networks.

Just as there is national planning for the national, regional and local hubs of our transport network, so there should be national planning for a communications network of local, regional, national, and internet exchanges where different operators can site equipment and exchange traffic, all linked by ample optical fibre that is open to use by competing providers.

We do not pretend that any of this is easy, and we welcome the Government's policy focus on broadband, but we believe that the UK can and must do better.

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