Speech to the Penrith and the Border Broadband Conference
I am delighted to be here in Penrith and I thank Rory for giving me this opportunity to speak to you all. I have attended many events and meetings on broadband and I’ve been impressed by the interest and commitment to resolving the issues around broadband access. I applaud the community’s efforts in bringing broadband access to this region. Cumbria was one of the first regions to provide community broadband and yesterday’s opening of Nenthead Fibremoor connection is evidence of the region’s determination to bring fast broadband access to those who do not have it. I hope that this event helps stimulate the spread of broadband to the rest of the region.
Access to broadband is just as important to rural communities such as Penrith, as it is to urban communities. It is the main driver to the Coalition Government’s commitment on broadband. The coalition government believes that broadband in the UK is a vital enabler for economic growth and therefore an important part of UK infrastructure. The UK communications infrastructure is an essential component of the UK economy. A modern communications infrastructure is fundamental to the day to day functioning of UK society. The Coalition Government is therefore committed to delivering a universal service for broadband, as well laying out our plans to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015.
The last twenty years has seen a profound change in how we work, learn and socialise. We’ve had three generations of mobile phones; three generations of internet access and now have access to computing and entertainment devices of such sophistication that we routinely download Gigabytes of data.
Internet technologies are having a profound effect on our lives and UK network providers, are at the forefront of dealing with this rising demand and consumer expectation. UK Operators, fixed, satellites and mobile are investing heavily to move from multiple networks for applications like fixed line voice, mobile voice and data to single Internet Protocol network carrying all traffic types.
The Government is also committed to driving superfast broadband services into areas where commercial investment alone will not deliver it. We want to see superfast broadband rolling out in the countryside at the same time as it appears in towns. It is clear that by the end of this Parliament, the market as it stands today will not achieve this to the extent we would like. So we need to take action. I want to make clear that we are not rushing to subsidy in the way some might believe is necessary. The Coalition Government believes that the efficiently operating market is the best mechanism for the delivery of broadband services to homes and businesses and that the government should only intervene to either make the market work more efficiently or where the market is failing to deliver to consumers.
As a first step, to allow the market to work as efficiently as possible and encourage the private sector to deliver superfast broadband to as many users as possible, the coalition government will be investigating potential use of regulatory and or legislative levers and by making available for private use, infrastructure currently owned and used exclusively by the public sector; infrastructure that is only in place because of the substantial public investment made in recent years.
The government supports measures that will lead to opening access to BT’s physical infrastructure (so called ‘ducts and poles’ access) opening access to other utility providers infrastructure (gas pipes, sewers, electricity pylons etc) and other potential levers that could help reduce cost and ease the installation of new infrastructure and these measures could include new legislation.
The Coalition Government is committed to release the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum to support super-fast mobile services and has laid a draft Direction before Parliament to enable this to happen. This will enable Ofcom to make this spectrum available as soon as possible and we anticipate an auction taking place towards the end of 2011. This measure will go some way to bringing more mobile broadband services in the UK.
Let me give you a brief update on what’s been happening at Broadband Delivery UK. Since they briefed industry on 15 July 2010 about its activities and timetable for implementing the Coalition Government’s broadband objectives, they are requesting companies with broadband delivery capability to provide technical and commercial information, a theoretical exercise, about how to improve broadband services in locations where supply is below 2Mbps.
The three locations for this paper exercise are East Sutherland and Edderton Ward in the Highlands; Quernmore [pronounced kwor-mer] and Over Wryesdale in Lancaster and Mawr Community in South Wales. These exercises will provide valuable information about the cost of deployment, the commercial models, and technology options. We would welcome your input into this process if you feel able.
Broadband Delivery UK is also in the process of the selecting the 3 areas for the Superfast broadband pilots, which we will be announcing later in the autumn. The Government will assist with the cost of actual deployment of Superfast broadband in commercially challenging locations and the deployment is expected to commence in mid 2011.
Also at the BDUK Industry Day, we published a discussion paper on access to other utilities’ infrastructure. This has recently closed and I thank those who have contributed their thoughts and ideas to the paper. BDUK will be using this information to feed into their workplan.
So, the Coalition Government is pressing on with this important agenda and with your help and commitment, I strongly feel that people in areas that have next to no access to fast broadband will begin to benefit from the advantages that fast broadband will bring. Projects like these are often the catalyst for wider commercial deployment, helping to bring choice and competition across the board. But Government first has a crucial role to play in creating the right conditions for commercial success and we are determined to do just that. I hope that you enjoy this conference and hope it yields ideas and partnerships on delivering fast broadband going forward.