Plan for UK to rule the e-waves

The government has outlined its strategy to make sure businesses and consumers across the UK have access to broadband internet access.

E-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt and newly-installed e-envoy Andrew Pinder launched UK Online, the Broadband Future — a wide-ranging action plan with the ambitious target of making the UK the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 group of major economies by 2005.

By that date, according to forecasts prepared for Pinder, most commercial sites with more than 250 employees and many smaller operations will require ‘next generation’ broadband access at 10Mb/s or greater.

This compares with current broadband speeds of around 2Mb/s and domestic modems operating at just 56kb/s.

New opportunity

At such speeds, businesses would be able to take advantage of bandwidth-hungry services such as video-conferencing and advanced e-business applications in areas such as design.

The government will ‘pump prime’ the emerging broadband sector with a £30m funding package to help regional development agencies develop local schemes. The Department of Trade and Industry believes continuing regulatory pressure on the likes of BT, along with a strategy to stimulate demand in the public and private sectors, will ultimately produce a robust and competitive market.

The government will hope the strategy goes some way to restoring its broadband credentials, which took a severe dent in December when its auction of 28GHz wireless broadband licences flopped.

Lack of interest in all but 16 of the 42 licences on offer left large parts of the UK without a service provider committed to providing wireless broadband, fuelling fears of a ‘digital divide’ over high-speed internet access.

The licences bought were almost all for major urban areas such as London, the West Midlands and the North West. However, the South East outside London, along with large parts of the East Midlands, Wales, the South West and Scotland were ignored.Announcing proposals to dispose of the remaining licences, Hewitt said the Radiocommunications Agency would leave them on the table for companies to bid for when they decide market conditions are right.

Bidders will be invited to offer the existing reserve price, and an auction would only be triggered if more than one interested party emerged.

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