Today was the day that Chancellor Alistair Darling released the budget for government spending over the next financial year, and within the budget was some interesting promises regarding not only plans to bring broadband to everyone but also about implementing ideas brought forward in the Digital Britain report.
Currently the UK is lagging behind the leading MEDC’s with regards to its broadband speeds — we are struggling to reach an average of 4Mbps while Japan (around 61Mbps), Korea (around 46Mbps) and Finland (around 21Mbps) are the top of the 20 countries that have average broadband speeds higher than ours (a list that includes Poland, Iceland and the Slovak Republic).
So considering the economic size of this country it is no surprise that measures are going to be taken, and today we received the first ‘real’ steps towards doing this as Mr. Darling made £250 million available to the broadband industry bring broadband internet access to all. This will probably be at a minimum of 2Mb per second — something that Lord Carter (the Communications Minister) highlighted as a key ambition in his Digital Britain report.
Given the current economic climate it may seem a little odd that the government are suddenly pouring money into something that isn’t directly related to the financial sector, but it is all because of the BBC and the digital switchover that is being phased in across the country over the next three years.
Although £130 million of the licence fees for each year is being set aside to fund the switchover, estimates suggest that £250 million of this will be left unspent (yes, amazing… under spending in the BBC!).
And although BBC, Ofcom and a few other companies few fighting over this money Alistair Darling has decided to put it back into the communications sector; of course there is the possibility that the BBC does manage to swallow up the £250 million but this shouldn’t affect the plans as “If necessary, the cost would also be met through additional funding mechanisms”.
Other plans of note for the ‘technology’ world include a £750 million investment fund which will be used to support “industrial projects of strategic importance”. What this conveniently ambiguous statement actually mean I don’t know, but we do know that £250 million of this (a third) will go towards low—carbon projects whilst the rest will be put towards emerging technologies (examples include digital businesses and biotechnology) as well as regionally important sectors.
Whilst addressing the House of Commons today Alistair Darling said “It is vital to ensure the entire country and economy benefits from the digital age, so I am allocating extra funding for digital investment, to help to extend the broadband network to almost every community.”
Although it may seem strange that there is not complete broadband coverage in this age (presumably no option of mobile broadband neither) an estimated 1.5 million households are unable to get anywhere near the speeds that Lord Carter is aiming for, and this should help to boost the state of the communication industry in the UK.
So it’s all looking good for the world of the internet, but we still have a worryingly long way to go until we can really consider ourselves to be anywhere near the top of the pile which really should be where we are aiming to be.