Those British Members of Parliament who deign to turn up at the Palace of Westminster every now and again (and are not too busy fiddling their expenses or otherwise distracted by the responsibilities involved in simultaneously holding down several other well-paid jobs whilst also supposedly representing, full-time, the interests of the constituents who voted them into office in the first place), are going to take a look at the provision of broadband in the UK, reports Martyn Warwick.
Wonderful. We hold our breath in rapt expectation of nothing of any moment whatsoever resulting from their pointless intervention.
Following the recent publication of the Digital Britain Report, the Commons Business and Enterprise Committee is to "open an inquiry" into broadband speeds in the UK. It's purpose is to determine whether the stated aim of government Internet strategy (to make broadband connectivity available to every household in Britain by 2012) can be achieved and whether the "minimum" broadband speed of 2Mbps is "ambitious enough."
Well, it doesn't take a piggery of parliamentarians to tell us that the "minimum" speed of 2Mbps as outlined in the plan is pathetically unambitious. Indeed as time has rolled on by that "mimimum" has transmogrified to become the de facto "achievable broadband rate" for the swathes of the country where real high-speed broadband (in the 10Mbps, 20 Mbps, 30Mbps, 50 Mbps and even 100 Mbps ranges) is not available via cable and satellite operators. Broadband provision in this country is both a mess and a lottery.
The Committee is also to look into whether or not the so-called "broadband tax" proposed by Lord Stephen Carter, Baron of Barnes (genuflect as you read this bit, please) is "fair". What a ludicrous question. What should be debated is whether or not the proposed 50 pence per month surcharge that is to be levied on every Brit with a landline will be enough to fund proper broadband rollout to those areas of the country not so far covered by fast Internet access. We already know the answer to that one too. It won't be.
Some 30 per cent of the UK remains uncovered by any broadband access whatsoever and forcing fixed line subscribers to pay £6 a year to help subsidise the provision of new infrastructure will do nothing other than annoy people. It's not enough to fund what's needed and is yet one more example of the paucity of imagination that characterises the UK's attitude to broadband.
What's more, the UK must hold a General Election by May next year.
It is widely expected that the out-of-touch and exhausted Labour administration will be consigned to the outer darkness by an angry electorate and it is doubtful if any of its plans will survive once a new government is in place.
So what what we are observing is a classic example of the veracity of Parkinson's Law that states "work expands so as to fill the time that is allocated to it."
Parliament is now shut whilst MP's (who exhort the rest of us to work harder) take 12 weeks off to allow to recover from the excesses of a prolonged First Class ride on the gravy train."Written evidence from interested parties" must be submitted by September 25 but as Pathe House of Commons does not reconvene until October - and then stops again before the Queen's Speech in November that the new Parliamentary year - no-one is expecting anything much by way of a report this side of Christmas - or probably much later.
Carter's magnum opus, "Digital Britain" took eight months to write as was published a month or so ago. It was immediately slammed by industry experts, analysts and politicians as partial and ill-thought through in many of its conclusions - particularly in reference to broadband rollout and the knotty problem of file sharing.
Indeed, Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative party's shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport called it "a colossal disappointment". He also lambasted the proposed "broadband tax", saying, "The cable revolution happened without a cable tax. The satellite revolution happened without a satellite tax. Everyone recognises that public investment may be necessary to reach more remote parts of the country but simply slapping on an extra tax is an old economy solution to a new economy problem."
The MP was equally scathing that Digital Britain has announced yet more "consultations" need to take place - 12 of 'em! To applause and cries of "Hear! Hear!", Jeremy Hunt said the report is little more than "government of the management consultants, for the management consultants, by the management consultants".
A quick analysis suggests that the proposed "Carter Tax" will benefit the UK's big existing providers rather than any upstarts trying to provide competitive services - and in any event will raise little more than £170 million a year - chicken-feed in terms of the vast sums required to make Britain truly a broadband nation.
The real facts of the matter are these: The UK is the sixth-largest economy on the planet but for whatever arcane politico/economic "reasons" will not commit to the levels of investment already pledged and feeding through in places such as US, Australia, Japan, Korea, Singapore and the US where the aim is to deliver 100Mbit/s as the norm for broadband.
2Mbit/s - what a joke. It might have been fine for 1990. It's rubbish now.
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