UK Seeks a Better Broadband Way

The British government launches a review of existing broadband networks. 

The British government said Feb. 22 it plans to launch a review of the United Kingdom's broadband infrastructure to identify potential barriers to the rollout of next-generation technology. Francesco Caio, former chief executive of Cable & Wireless, will lead the review.

As U.S. officials are in the United States, British officials are concerned that the United Kingdom may not be moving fast enough to address the challenges of deploying the high-speed networks that will support what is expected to be an explosion of new services over the next decade.

British Business and Competitiveness Minister Shriti Vadera said as businesses and consumers increasingly demand a richer, more powerful broadband experience, the government is anxious to knock down potential roadblocks to the deployment of third-generation networks.

"We must be ready to respond to future technological developments, which will place unprecedented challenges for our communications networks over the coming decade," Vadera said in a statement. "That is why we need to look ahead to the future now. We need to prepare the way for the UK to adopt groundbreaking new technologies to ensure that we do not get left behind-competitively or technologically."

Click here to read about the California Broadband Task Force's mapping results, which showed great disparity in access, rates and service.

Among the key areas under review are possible barriers to any new models of investment, opportunities to minimize the cost of private sector investment, ways of promoting a more certain investment environment, new infrastructure options and whether the European Union and UK statutory framework gives Ofcom (Office of Communications, the UK equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission) the necessary power to create regulatory certainty for investors.

"The way we will do business, access many government services, as well as information and entertainment, will change beyond recognition over our lifetime," Vadera said. "New technologies will push the boundaries of today's communications infrastructure."

Vadera noted that in 1997 less than 10 percent of the British population had ever used the Internet. By the end of 2007, approximately 70 percent of the population were Internet users and more than half of homes had broadband connections.

"We must not be in a situation where our creativity and growth of our businesses are stifled by inadequate communications and regulatory frameworks," Vadera said.

In parallel to the broadband review, the government will also ask the Broadband Stakeholder Group, a government advisory group, to examine the economics of fiber deployment. In particular, Vadera said, the United Kindom wants to know whether deployment of fiber to premises will be viable without a first step of deploying fiber to the cabinet.

"This is the right announcement at the right time," BSG Chairman Kip Meek said in a statement. "The review addresses some of the BSG's central concerns about next-generation broadband and we'll be fully engaged to support its work."