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Jeremy Hunt, The Secretary of State for Culture, the Olympics Media and Sport has announced the Government’s plans regarding delivering superfast broadband to the UK. In his first speech on the subject he said: “Singapore wants universal access to superfast broadband by 2012, by which time Korea plans to have provided one million homes with 1 gigabit per second connections – a speed which can download a two hour film in just 12 seconds.

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

But in this country, the legacy was – in the same timescale – a commitment to a paltry 2Mbps universal connection. Necessary, of course, but pitifully un-ambitious compared to a Korean goal 500 times faster.

It is a scandal that nearly 3 million households in this country still cannot access 2Mbps broadband speeds, and less than 1% of the country is able to access the internet using modern fibre optic technology – compared to an OECD average of around 10%.”

Is this the good news that we have all been waiting for? Do we finally have a minister involved in broadband that actually gets the point? Well that remains to be seen but the initial signs appear promising. Unfortunately, specific details surrounding the roll-out of ‘superfast broadband’ and its funding remain sketchy although more details have been promised in the Government’s consultation paper due to be released on 15th July. We’re looking forward to reading that document, believe me!

Whilst not going into specific details, Mr. Hunt did confirm that the remaining digital switchover fund will (as expected) be used to fund the roll-out into rural areas where the market is unable to viably reach. He also explained that the previous Government’s plans for an Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) would be scrapped and some of the funding that had been set aside for this project would instead be used to fund the broadband roll-out.

He is also fully aware of the digital divide issue and its potential to become significantly worse if the roll-out is left solely to market forces. He has announced three forthcoming trials of superfast broadband in so far unnamed rural areas in order to test the service and collate valuable data regarding the cost of implementation.

“These are projects that will not only benefit those living in these areas, but that will provide us with vital information about how we can best target government intervention and make next generation broadband viable in even the most challenging areas,” he said.

Promisingly he also appears to clearly understand the importance of broadband to the UK economy, stating: “Superfast broadband is not simply about doing the same things faster. It’s about doing totally new things – creating a platform on which a whole generation of new businesses can thrive.

The Federation of Small Businesses has estimated that a superfast network could add £18 billion to GDP and create 60,000 jobs. NESTA [the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts] thinks it could be ten times that – 600,000 new jobs.”

He concluded by setting a new ambitious goal, saying: “Our goal is simple: within this parliament we want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe.”

First impressions

Whilst we may not have had the review of the DEA that many of us were hoping for, it’s refreshing to learn that the new minister involved with the roll-out of the DEA at least seems to understand the industry and appears well informed and relatively knowledgeable which, after Mandelson, is a refreshing change. As first impressions go, Jeremy Hunt appears to have set off on the right foot. However, only time will tell if he really is the right man for the job (along with Ed Vaizey of course).

We hold out hope that upon the completed implementation of the un-ambitious 2Mbps USC the new Government will see fit to develop a further roll-out plan to bring much faster services to the UK. After all, if they wish to achieve their new goal of ‘Britain having the best superfast broadband network in Europe’, this will be essential.

Have your say!

What are your first impressions of the new minister and his broadband speech? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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