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November 29, 1995

UK GOVERNMENT UNVEILS ITS OWN PLAN FOR PILOT BROADBAND LINKS INTO SCHOOLS

By CBR Staff Writer

The UK government has unveiled its own ú10m information superhighway project in response to the UK opposition Labour Party’s planned deal with British Telecommunications Plc to connect educational institutes to high-speed broadband networks free – but only for the connection charge, not for usage. The government scheme would involve more than 200 educational institutions and 38 private companies all over the country, with pilot schemes including a project to link schools in England with partners in France, Germany and Spain. However, it remains committed to keeping British Telecom out of the broadcast entertainment field until the turn of the century, as outlined in its vision of the superhighway, published last year. Meantime the UK Office of Telecommunications director general Don Cruickshank has slammed the Labour Party’s sweetheart deal – which British Telecom does not acknowldge actually exists. He insisted that social objectives should not be traded off for commercial favours. However, Cruickshank welcomed Labour’s recent assurance that British Telecom would not be allowed to become a monopoly supplier of superhighway links for schools. Seeking to clarify Labour’s position, Margaret Beckett, shadow trade and industry secretary, said that the understanding between British Telecom and the Labour Party will be within a tough pro-competition policy with a clear presumption in favour of competition, and powers to impose financial penalties where restrictive or anti-competitive practices are proven. She added that Labour had repeatedly made it clear that it did not support a cable company monopoly or a British Telecom monopoly. Cruickshank said that laudable social goals such as superhighway links for schools could be achieved independently of any decision on the broadcasting ban – by setting up a universal service fund. Under this scenario, politicians would decide the universal service required, with costs being met by the fund, he says.

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