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Push for broadband access for all by 2012

23 апреля 2009

Plans to make broadband internet access available to every home by 2012 were beefed up yesterday.

Ministers also announced a review of the powers and duties of Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, which may persuade BT to expand the reach of its planned superfast broadband network.

The government's goal is that by 2012 every home should get a basic broadband download speed of 2 mega-bits per second, which is sufficient to watch video over the internet. Ministers expect their universal broadband plans to be financed by a combination of state and industry funding.

Alistair Darling, chancellor, said the plans could be partially financed by the estimated £200m to £300m underspend on a scheme designed to help the elderly and vulnerable switch to digital television. The £603m switchover scheme is overseen by the BBC and the projected underspend stems from relatively low take-up in areas where analogue television signals have ceased.

But some industry analysts said it could cost at least £1bn to make broadband available to every home. That meant a limited number of homes might never get broadband. Lord Mandelson, business secretary, said: "We need to make sure that transformational technologies like broadband are genuinely available to virtually everyone."

Aside from funding, the Budget highlighted a serious problem for the government's universal broadband plans. A bitter dispute be-tween mobile operators over radio spectrum risks preventing them from extending internet access to remote areas through wireless broadband services. The Budget said spectrum was "critical to the future of mobile communications technologies". Kip Meek, a former Ofcom official, is finalising a report that seeks to resolve the dispute be-tween the mobile operators.

The outcome of the government's review of Ofcom's powers may persuade BT to expand its planned superfast broadband network, according to people familiar with the situation.

BT's fibre-based network will provide a download speed of up to 40 mbps, but the UK's leading fixed-line telecoms company envisages the infrastructure covering only 40 per cent of homes by 2012. The network will cost £1.5bn and some investors are sceptical of the plans, particularly since BT has issued two profit warnings since -October.

Ofcom declined to comment. One person familiar with the regulator said changes to its powers might enable it to allow BT to recoup some of its fibre investment through wholesale charges. BT charges rival telecoms companies for having access to its existing copper-based network so that they can sell broadband services to consumers.

Another person familiar with Ofcom said any changes to its powers might enable it to permit BT to roll out superfast broadband services faster, free of competition concerns.

The Department for Business said the review was necessary to ensure the regulator "can strike the right balance between supporting competition and encouraging investment".

BT said Mr Darling's announcement "sounds encouraging".

"Significant investment will be required to keep the UK ahead of the game in the communications sector and BT is already playing its part," it added.


Источник: Financial Times

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