Listen to Lord Carter before the Business and Enterprise Committee
The Digital Britain report is only at its interim stage with the full report expected in the summer. Lord Carter the reports author was a witness in a meeting of the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Committee on 10th March, answering questions about the report, and in some cases helping to fill in a few gaps between the interim report and the final report.
An audio stream of the meeting can be listened to on ParliamentLive.tv, with an advantage of an audio only presentation being that it will run on practically any broadband connection, a full transcript should appear in the future.
The full meeting is some 90 minutes long, but for many the biggest issue will be a new Universal Service Obligation, which was discussed some 15 minutes into the meeting. Three building blocks were set out that will need to be worked upon before the USO can become active:
- Current EU law in terms of Universal Service Obligation for telecoms, covers the provision of a telephone line capable of supporting an internet service at up to 56Kbps, i.e. what is achievable with a V90 dial-up modem. For the UK to pass a USO requiring broadband speeds of 0.5, 1 or 2Meg as the target and for this law to be legal will require changes at the EU level. It would appear Lord Carter feels this is achievable.
- How do you provide the universal access, and at what cost? Three technology groups were mentioned, fixed, mobile and satellite, and it seems that not one solution will be chosen, but rather the solution most appropriate to the needs of an area. So while areas with no or slow broadband might see local loop upgrades, others could be offered a subsidised satellite service perhaps.
- How do you fund it? It was mentioned that a mix of public funds and industry levy seem the most likely solution.
The issue of next generation broadband (i.e. 25Mbps and above rather than the next generation that is ADSL2+ as part of 21CN from the BT Group) was raised, and it seems that at this time little has changed since the Francesco Caio report in September 2008, and the current Lord Carter review is seen as being part of the process that this previous report recommends of keeping a close eye on developments. The issue of the Universal Service Obligation and next generation broadband would appear to be being handled separately, i.e. the USO is not likely to be used as a way to force providers to roll-out next generation services where they feel they cannot get a return on their investment.
If people feel the need to reply to anything that was raised by the report, or the committee meeting the report team are taking feedback until 12th March 2009, both through email and a less formal online comments section.