Stephen Timms, Competitiveness Minister (and former E-commerce Minister), announced last night to the Broadband Stakeholder Group that one of his highest personal priorities is to ensure that there is a high performance telecommunications infrastructure nationwide.
Mr Timms said that he was to chair a high level summit later this year that will look into the possibility of public sector involvement and investment within the deployment of a next-generation broadband network. The way forward by most industry representatives is seen to be fibre to the home (FTTH). This involves deploying fibre optic cable as 'the last mile' either in place of, or as well as the existing copper telephone cables. Some countries are taking a lead in Europe on FTTH roll outs. In March 2007, Sweden had 650,000 fibre connections, making up about 28% of their broadband connections. BT Openreach is currently deploying fibre on a very limited scale, generally only to new development sites such as Ebbsfleet Valley, and has no wide spread deployment plans. Current investment is into intermediary technologies such as ADSL2+ (with benefits being limited by proximity to the telephone exchange), and improvements to coax-fibre hybrid networks (such as the cable network of Virgin Media) that allow faster speeds (currently up to 50Mbps in trials). These two deployments may improve access, but they will also widen the digital divide between those who can and can't get higher speed broadband services. They are also largely a stepping stone until investment can be made into a nationwide fibre deployment.
The Broadband Stakeholder Group has been campaigning for investment into newer technologies and with the incumbent operator, BT, unwilling to make a commitment as they see no business case for it, Government support may be the key to getting this off the ground.