There is barely an aspect of our daily lives that
is not touched in some way by the internet. The revolution in
communications witnessed over recent decades has had a transformative
effect on commercial and social transactions creating an information
world without frontiers. We have found, however, that there is
a very real risk that some people and businesses are being left
behind, that inadequate access to the internet and all its benefits
is actually afflicting their daily lives, prohibiting them from
harvesting the fruits of the information revolution.
The Government are to be congratulated for making
enhanced broadband provision a key public policy priority, and
progress is clearly being made. It is our contention, however,
that the Government have proceeded from a flawed prospectus, that
the progress being made may prove illusory. There has been an
insufficient focus on properly thinking through questions of first
principle, and an absence of an all encompassing vision of pervasive
broadband connectivity as a key component of national infrastructure.
Government policy has become preoccupied with the
delivery of certain speeds to consumers. This, in our view, has
had a detrimental effect on policy-making and the long term national
interest. In this report, we propose an alternative vision for
UK broadband policy, which, rather than being target driven, makes
the case for a national broadband network which should be regarded
as a fundamental strategic asset, to which different people can
connect in different ways according to their needs and demands.
The delivery of certain speeds should not be the guiding principle;
what is important is the long term assurance that as new internet
applications emerge, everyone will be able to benefit, from inhabitants
of inner cities to the remotest areas of the UK. Access to the
internet should be seen as a domestic essential and regarded as
a key utility. The spectre of a widening digital divide is a profound
source of concern which requires the Government to address its
origin with greater vigour than we believe is currently the case.
Fundamentally, the Government's strategy has fundamentally
focused on the wrong part of the networkbroadly speaking
the outer edge and the margins, not the centre. We argue that
the Government should be focusing on delivering a high spec infrastructure
which is future proof and built to last; fibre-optic cable, the
most future proof technology, must be driven out as close as possible
to the eventual user. Then, as well as mandating open access to
this optical fibre from the cabinet to the exchange, we need to
ensure that there is open access to links between the exchanges
that feed the cabinets, and to the higher level links into national
and global networks.
Just as there is national planning for the national,
regional and local hubs of our transport network, so there should
be national planning for a communications network of local, regional,
national, and internet exchanges where different operators can
site equipment and exchange traffic, all linked by ample optical
fibre that is open to use by competing providers.
We do not pretend that any of this is easy, and we
welcome the Government's policy focus on broadband, but we believe
that the UK can and must do better.