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December 6, 2010

UK to have best broadband in Europe by 2015?

Government plans high-speed access for all


The government has announced plans to provide every UK community with super-fast broadband by 2015. The £830m project aims to create a Digital Hub in every community in the UK, which the government hopes will provide the UK with the best broadband infrastructure in Europe.

Culture minister Jeremy Hunt has also announced an additional £50m of funding to push forward more pilot schemes to test super-fast broadband connections, particularly in rural areas. The publicly-funded project will include money earmarked for the BBC to fund the digital switchover. Hunt added that he was still keen on adding private funding to the project.

The new project will use Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) rather than Fibre to the Home (FTTH). FTTC connects homes to cabinets out on the street via a copper wire and is thought to offer speeds up to 40Mbps, according to a report in the Guardian. FTTH offers speeds up to 100Mbps through fibre optic cables going straight in to homes.

"A superfast network will be the foundation for a new economic dynamism, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and adding billions to our GDP," Hunt said in a statement. "But it is not just about the economy, around the world there are countless examples of superfast broadband helping to build a fairer and more prosperous society, and to transform the relationship between government and citizens."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Hunt expanded on the announcement and explained why the Coalition has abandoned the previous government’s plant to have a 2Mbps broadband infrastructure in place throughout the UK. "It’s silly to hang your hat on a speed like two meg when the game is changing the whole time," he said. "What we’ve said is that just giving people two meg is not enough, what people use the internet for is changing the whole time."

This theory was backed up by David Palmer, senior product manager for cloud computing provider Star. "As a provider of broadband to businesses, our customers will always select the fastest service they can get. 24Mbps broadband if it’s available; if not they’ll go for 8Mbps; failing that, they will reluctantly settle for 2Mbps. In five years time, no business is going to accept the 2Mbps option," he said. "40Mbps and 100Mbps broadband are now emerging and this is what the business community is already starting to request."

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Richard Holway, chairman of analyst house TechMarketView, voiced a note of caution about the scheme. "The announcement is not exactly as good as it sounds as the commitment is to put a digital hub in each community," he wrote on the firm’s blog. "Communities and local operators would then be expected to take on the responsibility for extending the network to individual homes."

Holway added however that the announcement is, "really great news. In the wider economy, having a universal superfast broadband network is crucial for the UK economy. I see much more home and mobile working where access to such a superfast service will be essential. I see more innovation being sparked purely because of the exciting opportunities that such a network provides."

A recent survey by Ofcom revealed that just 0.2% of UK homes have a super-fast broadband connection, compared to 12% in Sweden and 34% in Japan.

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