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January 29, 2009

Digital Britain by 2012?

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

If Stephen A Carter, U.K. Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting gets his way, the United Kingdom will have universal coverage of broadband access service operating up to 2 Mbps by 2012.

The ministry has not yet concluded that there is a role for public financing to support broadband deployment in the hardest-to-reach areas, which European Union reports suggests is about 4 percent of households in the U.K. market.
Mobile operators are seen as playing a role as well, as Carter thinks that can be done only if a mix of fixed and mobile, wired and wireless networks is involved.
“We will develop plans for a digital Universal Service Commitment to be effective by 2012, delivered by a mixture of fixed and mobile, wired and wireless means,” says Carter. That likely will include measures the government can take to clear spectrum and relax restrictions on spectrum use.
Carter also thinks universal service mechanisms need to be revised in ways that provider more broadly-based levels of support. Translation: more types of service providers and services will contribute. The definition of what “universal service” means likely will change as well, away from voice, the current obligation, and embracing broadband.
“At this stage, demand for services requiring maximum speeds of 100 Mbps is very uncertain,” says Carter. “But between now and 2012 demand for average speeds of 20Mbps is likely.” So it is not clear what might happen with the current discussion of 2 Mbps as the working definition of broadband, for purposes of measuring deployment.
Universal availability of service has traditionally been provided by means of a universal service obligation, currently applied to BT (News - Alert) and KCom, and the proportionality of these costs is assessed by Ofcom.
“We expect that the costs of a future universal service commitment could be shared more widely, as it is in other countries, between a range of communications providers, and those who provide communication services over the network,” says Carter.
The contribution could be financial or in kind (for example, if the mobile network operators continued to build out their networks towards near-universal coverage, facilitated by the acquisition of additional wireless radio spectrum.

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Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan


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