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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Government ‘Superfast’ Broadband Plans: A Small Step Vaguely in the Right Direction

Sat at the BBC late at night, waiting to go on air, so just time to craft my two-penneth on the Government’s broadband plans.

Firstly, though I was never fan of the distinctly unambitious 2Mbps target, it was at least a defined target. I don’t understand why the coalition has felt the need to ditch this target rather than maintain it alongside the new objective for 2015. Unless of course it is a target they knew they would fail to meet in any case, which I suspect is probably accurate. The new target seems to be utterly nebulous.

Secondly, and more positively, I welcome the seed funding for rural broadband hubs. This was a need that was never going to be met to anyone’s satisfaction by the private sector without some serious arm-twisting, so better that the Government have come clean now and stumped up the cash.

I would like to see the hub approach provided in all communities, with the large providers obliged to open up access in each area for small companies and local groups to organise their own provision. This doesn’t need to be restricted to rural areas. Unfortunately there is one issue that the government has failed to address that will currently prevent this from happening: business rates.

Rates are charged on every metre of fibre laid by a provider, and they are charged at higher rates for small companies than the large providers who negotiate a national deal. This can place an absurd tax burden on service provision, with one example showing that the fibre required to deliver a typical inner-city fibre-to-the-home service would carry a tax burden greater than the total charge (£30) on an equivalent service in Paris.

Until this problem is resolved there will be little innovation or competition on the market, and surely those are the watchwords of any Conservative (or as good as) government?

PS: You can now Listen Again to my comments on air here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/bigscreen/radio/episode/b00wcqrt. I’m on about 85 minutes in just before midnight.

Tom Cheesewright