Digital Britain: Telcos to drive broadband roll-out

Companies like Virgin Media and BT are capable of fitting out half the country with high speed broadband, but public money may be needed to drive it everywhere else.

The interim Digital Britain report, published today, says that telecoms players should be the main drivers for a UK-wide next generation broadband network - but it hasn't ruled out government funding.

There was no mention of a major short-term financial intervention, as companies like BT and Virgin Media are already building their own high speed networks, and there is a new breed of small, entrepreneurial companies offering their own services too.

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If these investments were carried out to completion, half the UK population would have next generation services, according to the report.

However, the report also stressed that the UK would need widespread next generation services midway through the next decade, and that it would require a massive investment because of its scale.

The report also detailed the possibility of the government giving the market a helping hand, such as allowing wholesale access to ducts, new regulations and the removing of barriers that have historically held back growth.

It also looked at creating an industrial framework to encourage companies to inject money into establishing networks for the future.

Communications Minister Lord Stephen Carter said that the governments of some countries had already made the decision about how they were going to actively help next generation broadband deployment.

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However, he said that due to the way the UK's market has developed, not enough was yet known to make any firm decisions. Lord Carter and his team plan to examine these options in the coming months before the full report is published.

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"The case for the value of a next generation network is clearer now than it has ever been," said Lord Carter.

"We welcome the investment from companies like BT and Virgin, but we have identified some obstacles that exist for the innovative deployment of next generation broadband. We've asked the question about whether the market is capable of taking us past a target of 60 per cent of the UK, or whether it is only capable to do this with public incentives."

The report confirmed the proposal for a universal service commitment in broadband, ensuring that every household in Britain will benefit from speeds of at least 2Mbps.

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