Popped down to the BBC this morning to talk with Alan Beswick about the Digital Britain report, unveiled yesterday. The papers have been full of news about the ‘tax’ to pay for the future of the UK’s broadband infrastructure. The government has proposed a 50p per month levy on all copper lines to go towards a next generation fund for ‘superfast’ broadband — i.e. fibre to the home (FTTH).
Personally I’m all for this. Think of the internet as a transport mechanism, the successor to the motorway and the train line rather than an evolution of the phone. It performs the same functions: connecting people to their places of work and leisure, carrying products from the vendor to the consumer. Looking back, who would baulk at a small levy to pay for the trains or the motorways? (Apart from environmentalists with the latter)
The only problem for me with this report, is its lack of ambition. 2Mbps by 2012 is a noble target for universal access, but the risk is that it sets the bar a little low. Alongside this I would have liked to see a little more detail about what the stretch target should be for FTTH. This is a point I made in the consultation process for the report through the response from the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s IT Committee (which I helped to draft).
It’s a small gripe though: the report acknowledges that a lot of the drive towards FTTH is unlikely to come from massive investment from BT, and is more likely to be driven on a regional basis — good news for groups like our own Manchester Digital Development Agency, currently rolling out fibre in north Manchester. The phone line levy should provide them with a pot to keep pushing the rollout forward.
In all it’s great to see the government taking a holistic view of the digital economy in the UK. If the only thing the papers can find to gripe about is a £6/year ‘tax’, then the report’s authors should consider it a job well done.