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Weighing up Digital Britain, one month on


Everyone’s got their own opinion of the Digital Britain report, whether or not they’ve actually read it. Over the past couple of weeks Westminster Forums has been getting together various experts to see if any kind of consensus can be reached. brings you the highlights of the two seminars, which were entitled “Dear Stephen” and “Broadband for all” (cue Match of the Day theme).

One of the key concepts enshrined in the Digital Britain publication was “broadband for all,” set at a minimum speed of 2MBit/s. Before it finally hit the press Lord Carter’s cronies were negotiating with the UK’s mobile phone networks about the potential for those companies to play a part in the broadband enfranchisement of the masses - it looks like they haven’t given up on the idea even if the Government has. “Mobile Broadband tends to be capable and commercially capable of providing the 2MBit/s broadband universal service commitment and is an extremely efficient way of doing it,” says the Director of Technical Solutions at Three (3), Phil Sheppard. “It is very cost effective, it actually doesn’t need government funding, what it needs is access to spectrum, that’s the key.” And, he didn’t go on to mention, it would make the mobile networks quite a few quid too.

Of course, some say the Government should have set the bar higher than 2MBit/s. Our friends at El Reg say Michael Rawlinson, who’s the Direct General of ELSPA (an association of gaming software publishers), was “visibly salivating” at the merest suggestion of 80MBit/s connections. Others, like Professor Patrick Barwise from London Business School, say too much attention’s being focused on the perceived need for speed. For him, the Government shouldn’t be so obsessed with “fat pipes” when the forty per cent of people currently not online wouldn’t be interested in Internet gaming or media streaming; instead they’d be quite content with slower and more basic services tailored to them.

But you’ll be relieved to hear that broadband is no longer the “preserve of geeks and cyber visionaries.” Those are the words of Peter Phillips, partner for strategy and market developments at Ofcom, who also came up with other strategically marketable soundbites. Broadband is “critical to the 21st century” and “a mainstream requirement” he said, earning him a few website headlines. While his stance was overall in favour of the Digital Britain blueprint, he argued against getting too tied up in its preliminary phases. “I think it is important that we collectively keep an eye on the medium-term goal,” he says, “to create the right circumstances for the next generation of superfast broadband capable of delivering much higher speeds.”

If there was any kind of consensus at all it was that the Digital Britain report is - for now - the best way forward. But that almost seems the default position in the absence of a widespread support for any one alternative path, with most of the “experts” seemingly having not changed their positions since when it was published. Put that in your “fat pipe” and smoke it.

Further details at [ISPreview] and [The Register]