Communications Committee says Government should concentrate on closing the digital divide rather than just speed
The Government needs to focus on closing the digital divide between towns and rural areas rather than rolling out ever faster broadband speeds, a committee of peers has said.
The House of Lords Communications Committee said that the Government was to "be congratulated for making enhanced broadband a key public policy priority" but said the strategy was flawed.
In its Broadband for All report, the Committee said that there was a "preoccupation" with speed which was "not the only determiner of broadband performance" and not enough was being done to ensure rural areas would get reliable broadband services. It said this meant there was "a very real risk that some people and businesses are being left behind..."
The Committee has proposed an alternative approach, which it insists is not too late to implement. The report advocates "the creation of a robust and resilient national network, bringing open access fibre-optic hubs within reach of every community."
In practice this means installing fibre optic networks across the whole country rather than a piece meal approach of using different technologies such as 4G and satellite for rural areas.
This fibre optic network would be future-proof and allow communities to upgrade as their "needs evolve over time."
Committee chairman Lord Inglewood said: "The Government is quite right to make broadband a policy priority – barely an aspect of our lives isn't touched in some way by the internet, and developments look set to continue apace in the future [but] the Government's strategy lacks just that – strategy.
"The complex issues involved were not thought through from first principle and it is far from clear that the Government's policy will deliver the broadband infrastructure that we need – for profound social and economic reasons – for the decades to come."
However digital minister Ed Vaizey said a lot of public money was being spent on closing the digital divide, including £58m to invest in fast broadband for Wales.
Dana Tobak, managing director of internet service provider Hyperoptic agreed with the Lord's report about the Government focusing "its strategy and funds on rural coverage" but it was wrong in saying there could be "room for compromise" over speed.
"There is one thing we ask, please don't trivialise the issue of speed – it's just as important as coverage and a requisite if the UK ever wants to compete in the global broadband arena," said Tobak.
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