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Government spending £20 million on broadband for Hackney
Tuesday 11 January 2005 11:31:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Shoreditch and its people look set to benefit from a £20 million scheme called 'Wired Network' that is to provide broadband connections for 20,000 people. The broadband package is meant to provide education, video on demand and free local telephone calls for a fee of £3.50 per week (~£15 per month), we assume that full Internet access is part of the package also.

One aim of the system is to attract 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses to the area to improve employment prospects, though one would have thought that an area that already has had BT ADSL since March 2000, is cable enabled and even has an exchange that unbundled by Bulldog and Easynet should already be attractive to small businesses.

The Times has a longer item on the new network. It is mentioned that schemes like this are key, if the Labour government is to see through its pledge of every home having broadband access by 2008. Though we and many others thought this pledge meant, people had the option, rather than creation of 'local networks' on top of the existing commercial networks. There are still many communities in the UK that are without any form of affordable broadband, who we expect will resent this spending of money on an area that has multiple choices now. We do understand the need for social inclusion schemes, to avoid digital divides, but with a fee of £15 a month, this service is not much cheaper than many ADSL services now.

Schemes like this do run one major risk, and that is that if rolled out over vast areas it may curb the enthusiasm for commercial ventures like LLU. There is no denying that the Shoreditch area is one of the more deprived areas, but has the commercial market in the area failed to the extent that another totally new network needed to be created? Or can communities around the UK look forward to around £1,000 per head for getting broadband into their community to meet the 2008 target?

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