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Stephen Timms to take charge of 'Digital Britain'
Friday 07 August 2009 15:05:27 by Andrew Ferguson

The Digital Britain report saw its head announce that he was to leave around the time the report was published, and now we know who is successor will be, Treasury minister Stephen Timms (MP for East Ham). The BBC reports that Mr Timms will remain in his Treasury role and report to both Lord Mandelson and Ben Bradshaw.

Stephen Timms has previously had a spell as the e-commerce minister, and worked for Logica and Ovum between 1978 and 1994, more information on his political profile at The Guardian.

If the Digital Britain report is not to become just another inch thick book sat on book shelves it will need someone with a strong direction, and the ability to make sure things move quickly. The proposed £6 a year charge on all fixed line telephone lines has drawn a fair bit of criticism, the most vocal of which seems to be those who are asking why they should be paying into a fund that they will never benefit from.

The Digital Britain report covers a very wide area, and it will be very easy for those driving the report forward to overlook parts of the report. The broadband aspects were somewhat wishy washy, the only hope is that when more detail is announced on how the Universal Service Commitment will be implemented later this year that much firmer information will be forthcoming. The recent Ofcom speed report at times talked as if the 2Mbps figure was a throughput guarantee, whereas the Digital Britain report talks in terms of 2Mbps connection speed - which are two very different things.

With the UK guaranteed to have a General Election by June 2010 at the latest, there is a degree of urgency to ensure that Digital Britain moves forward quickly. Even if the Labour party returns to power, General Elections are always an odd time, and new agenda's can takeover, or ministers heading up areas find themselves without a seat in Parliament.

Without a doubt the UK will get broadband capable of speeds similar to the rest of the world, but it is likely that we will remain two to three years or more behind the leading edge. We may be leaders in terms of coverage, but in terms of the range of products available to consumers things are very limited, part of this is down to city/borough councils taking a back seat in the broadband infrastructure race.


Posted by silvryn over 8 years ago
Referring the last 2 paragraphs!
So a another bunch of lying time wasters, who are making money off the back of the English/Welsh people will be NOT getting the British people upto speed with the rest of the world.....or am I living in the Democratic and open economic envrioment? ....I don't think so!
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
...although far more of our people have access to deacent speeds than the so-called "leading edge" in other countries.
Posted by otester over 8 years ago

What's your idea of decent?
Posted by NetGuy over 8 years ago
Well, I'm not convinced (yet) by the continuing 'need for speed' - I'd prefer to see that we have sensible levels all across the UK and at affordable cost, than go off on a three or four layer approach, where some people are constantly moaning about "only 100 Mbps" (not 125) on their fibre, others complaining about the delay in their cable offering them a 50 Mbps, and those getting "up to 8" with rural users stuck on 500k or less.
Posted by JPickering over 8 years ago
If our Ilustrious MPs are so keen that the whole population must have access to broadband, Why dont they pay for it themselves and claim it back on Expenses!!!

Dont see why I should pay a surcharge - yet another tax in our well over taxed country
Posted by FatJack over 8 years ago
Agreed Government dictating again to the lower minions and just do what they like
Posted by amforbes over 8 years ago
@JPickering, great idea let the bloody MPs pay for it, I'm sure their combined expenses would be more than enough.
Posted by otester over 8 years ago

Problem with 'need for speed' is that not enough stuff in the UK is done through the net. If HDTV services were done through internet connections then people would begin to understand the need. Not to mention the P2P benefits :)


BT is in huge debt at the moment so they can't support it themselves, they've done pretty well so far to get rid of most of it.
Posted by mikeblogs over 8 years ago
Netguy approach on affordability is sound.

The challenge for Timms and NGA is to support industry by 1)removing fibre investments from the rating system and 2) cancel the specrum auction in a bid to build a unified data transport infrastructure.

The Digital Britain reports forsensic investments (and tax raising) for universal access and not spot investment should be continued.

Posted by mikeblogs over 8 years ago
Further The proposals to give Ofcom more power need to be reviewed. The responsibility for stating what a world class infrastructure looks like should not sit with the regulator. NGA UK looks to be failing to inspire on this particular point as well.
Posted by otester over 8 years ago

I am against tax rising, the government cripples us with more than enough taxes already which they dish out to their corporate buddies.

The 'more power' bit is about control, ie: related to 'copyright infringement'. Eventually they will be able to censor the web if this goes through.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
@Jpickering, amforbes - One street of it. Yes, that small scale, as I've said before.

Stop playing the fools.
Posted by drteeth over 8 years ago
When will people learn? All the politicos can do is FUBAR. If the govt wants capital investment, they just have to make it a popular investment by lowering taxes! Oops, we cannot do that any more without falling foul of EC rules. Looks like we're stuffed. Now where's my 56K modem?
Posted by soloman over 8 years ago
"Treasury minister" says it all!
The real reason for the digital Britain drive is in order to save money by putting more services like the post office online. Those who don't, won't, can't use the Internet will lose out but don't worry you can now get a friend to help you commit suicide!!
Posted by simond over 8 years ago
Theres more chance of me winning the lottery and shagging Kate Winslet by the end of tonight than there is over ever seeing a fibre rollout within the next 100 years. More politicians spouting BS.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
So, simond, you think they'll block BT's rollout? Why? (No, the current rollout is not government funded in any way. There's /talk/ of extensions to it being partly funded, but...)
Posted by simond over 8 years ago
Block it? We need a fibre backbone not a backbone of 100 year copper wire with a few strands of 'modern' fibre optics. The whole telecommunications network in this country is embarrassing, and will stay embarrassing just like our public transport, roads, railway, welfare....
Posted by chrysalis over 8 years ago
andrew, what you been smoking when writing that article? because we dont look like getting anything close to resembling what other countries are rolling out. Not sure how blaming the councils for BT's lack of ambition fits either.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
BT's basic business sense not to try competing with themselves and edn up losing money hand over fist.

In every case of fibre rollout on a mass scale, there is either poor (and no, the UK's infrastructure does not qualify as that) existing infrastrucrure or significant government investment (one way or another).

Simond? The only embarassment is people like you who insist that a broad broadband rollout is embarassing.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@simond:Most of the connection already is fibre - certainly what could be considered to be 'backbone'. It's only the local loop (known as 'the last mile' which still has copper.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 8 years ago
In a number of countries fibre is municipal based, i.e. not driven by teleco, but pushed and built by a local/regional authority.

Digital Region in South Yorks is the closest in the UK.
Posted by dragon1945 over 8 years ago
Andrue - I don't have a 1 mile local loop of copper. I am 2 miles from the nearest "possible" connection to Fibre, and I am told by residents there that they don't have Fibre. BT admits that we are on copper all the way to the Exchange [4 miles].No signs of Fibre at all.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 8 years ago
hi dragon, it's just a phrase they use, the 'last mile' its the bit from the exchange to you. Some exchanges have lit fibre, some have dark, maybe some have none. To get a fibre two miles from the exchange to our village would cost us £76k per year. This is mainly to make a profit for the isp, a profit for bt wholesale, a profit for openreach and government tax on the lit fibre. The actual cost of it in reality would be peanuts. There is an abundance of connectivity, but this country treats bandwidth as a scare commodity and taxes it too. madness.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@dragon:I was responding to your comment that "We need a fibre backbone not a backbone of 100 year copper wire".

The copper between your house and the exchange is not a 'backbone'. The 'backbone' if it's anything is the national core (of which there's at least three commericially available). That stuff is modern, ultra-high speed fibre and has been for over a decade. Possibly going on for two decades in BT's case.

In fact most exchanges probably have multi-Gigabit connectivity if someone is prepared to pay to light the fibre.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
The problem in the UK is as Cyberdoyle wrote:Getting yourself hooked up to that backbone. The problem there is that there's a helluva lot of cable to upgrade and a lot of people who all want to make money off the exercise and it appears that most customers don't want to pay for it.

Add to that the usual vaguaries of British politics and big business and you have the current situation.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Vaguaries? The UK government regulates BT without prodviding anything like the investment other countries have put in. That's not vague, it's quite clear and ongoing.

Cyberdoyle - A "scarce" comodity which has higher average connections speeds than the US these days, and rising. Right.
Posted by mishminx over 8 years ago
As with any pseudo socialist paradise, courtesy of a labour government, they are rather prone to bankrupting the country. So the stock solution where investment is unavoidable is to sell it on and let someone else deal with it. Nothing to sell in terms of the internet, so once again... Taxation and a half assed attempt to screw the public and do things as cheaply as possible.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
So let's see, you're blaming the government for bankrupting the country, when in fact they haven't funded broadband, and it was a Tory government who privatised BT.

Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
"Digital Region in South Yorks is the closest in the UK" - glacially slow moving, high cost, partially EU funded, no actual connections yet etc etc - a wonderful example of a public sector broadband initiative.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
If "The actual cost of it in reality would be peanuts" then it would be trivial to negotiate a cost reduction, wouldn't it ?
Posted by terrygoodfellow over 8 years ago
If Timms is in charge heaven help us - say bye to reality
Posted by simond over 8 years ago
"Simond? The only embarassment is people like you who insist that a broad broadband rollout is embarassing."

It is embarrasing and maybe spend time convincing me rather than resorting to insults. Average 240 Kbps for most people. That isnt a modern network - its crap. Maybe if governments hadn't spent £1bn on a stupid dome, endless £bn's on pointless wars we'd have a network for 'everyone' and for everyone to be proud of.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Um, over 4MBit average and faster than the average in America.

Maybe if the government had funding the network AT ALL, you mean? See, these are the basics which make you unbelieveable, BT has regulation but not funding.

Herdwick - Why? Because the incumbant isn't bad enough to produce movement. Don't blame the EU.
Posted by Dixinormous over 8 years ago
@Dawn where are you getting these statistics from for our having a faster average speed than the US? You're comparing like-for-like surveys rather than say an Akamai report with an Ofcom one ya?
Posted by otester over 8 years ago
If you went further and got a good 'indie' supplier you could probably push that line over at least 2Mb.

I get 2.5Mb on Entanet (4-6km line) with the capability of 4Mb if I changed wholesaler.
Posted by AndrueC over 8 years ago
@Simond:Hang on - are you seriously trying to claim that the average throughput is 240Kb/s? That's ridiculous. As Dawn has said the average appears to be around 4Mb/s and slowly rising. I've no idea how that compares to other countries but I can believe that it's pretty favourable.

The UK doesn't have the highest headline speeds but it does have some of the best national coverage. Tbh I prefer that. Mediocre BB for all seems better to me than stunning BB for a few.
Posted by tikka69 over 8 years ago
Herdwick, I am starting work on the DR project soon so should be able to provide updates on it.....I can assure you it is picking up pace now !
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago
"I can assure you it is picking up pace now" - wake me up if something actually happens. It might just get going in time for all the councils to have to pull out on budgetary grounds.

"The launch coincides with the start of building work that began recently and, with a phased implementation programme, will be fully completed in around three years to cover the entire South Yorkshire region.
" QED. That must be at least 6 years in total.
Posted by tikka69 over 8 years ago
Herdwick, will know better in a few weeks time......

Check out this in the meantime :

Posted by warweezil over 8 years ago
I still trying to work out why I should pay NOW for an upgrade that in my area will most likely arrive AFTER I m dead and gone.

Where is my "business case" for paying more and receiving nothing? - start an upgrade in this area - with an unbreakable commitment to finish the project within a reasonable time. that would be fair - anything else will just be another stealth tax that wont have any noticeable effect on my poorly maintained copper.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
Dixi - latest study. Gah, can't find the link offhand but it was a proper statistical study. UK average speed was 0.2 Mbps quicker...
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
warweezil - Oh, you'll need more than 50p a month for that. Try a 40% update in your area, and a legal commitment to £30 a month for 48 months... (that's what happens in other countries for rollout, note)

Also, poorly maintained? Evidence plz.
Posted by NetGuy over 8 years ago
@Dawn "has higher average connections speeds than the US these days, and rising." (Prices higher too - try getting more than 3 Mbps for under $50/month in Utah - $30 goes to QWest phone provider, rest goes to ISP)

Connection speeds maybe better here, but the 'scarce commodity' was bandwidth (at least as things have been priced to date), hence some low-end ISP accounts offering under 3 GB/month.
Posted by NetGuy over 8 years ago
@otester - re HDTV and other high speed uses - all very well in theory, but will cost dear for the extra servers to pump out the data fast enough for all users, and have knock-on costs fed back to users, who probably won't be willing to pay (either for server access, or for additional usage costs to ISP).

I can only see one-to-one XXX webcam sessions being high bandwidth without problems for intermediate routers.

I really don't see massive take-up of live stream HDTV/movies. Download the content for sure, but thousands or millions streaming it?
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 8 years ago
NetGuy - well yea, but you're entirely free to pick ISP's and packages with much higher limits as well.
Posted by herdwick over 8 years ago - just more yada from Digital Region. "1st group of BSAN’s live November 2009" looks to be the next milestone.

Any actual retail ISPs signed up yet ?
Posted by otester over 8 years ago

Well other countries don't seem to have a problem providing fast speeds.

Usenet will take up fast connections easily.

It's not so much about using the whole 100Mbps line, it's that there might be 4 heavy users in a house, that's 25Mbps each in theory. So overall not that much.

Much like this houses up coming ~20Mbps service will probably end up being divided.
Posted by Somerset over 8 years ago
otester - you need to understand it's very unlikely that all these 4 users will be using 25M at the same time.
Posted by dragon1945 over 8 years ago
Recently BT were replacing a large ammount of old cable here. Did they take the opportunity to roll out Fibre? No chance. They put in more copper wire which should last another 20 years. Since they had 2 vanloads of Engineers out to do the job anyway, why not do the job properly? I'll be 84 before we get fibre. I have to laugh when I hear the BT adverts about 20 MB speeds where others provide 8MB. What about only 512 kbps when Talktalk provides 1.7MB?
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