Digital Britain: Broadband for all or next-gen speeds? You decide

Which do you want more: broadband for all or next generation speeds? A committee of MPs is suggesting the government makes up its mind

MPs are calling for Digital Britain to decide which it wants more: broadband for all or a high-speed network. Condemming the proposed 50p phone line tax , the cross-party Business Innovation and Skills Committee reckons universal access should be the government's priority, with next-generation technology left to the market.

The committee stated that "a 50p levy placed on fixed telecommunication lines is an ill-directed charge. It will place a disproportionate cost on a majority who will not, or are unable to, reap the benefits of that charge." Chaired by Peter 'Three Loos' Luff, the committee includes expenses casualty Julie Kirkbride, 'Mid-life Meltdown' Mark Oaten, and Lembit 'Cheeky Monkey' Opik.

The committee also echoed the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) in asking for a clearer definition of the government's aims, in this case looking to shed some light on Westminster's vow to offer us all 2Mbps broadband. Minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms replied that we would all have access to a line capable of delivering 2Mbps. Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills looked at the ceiling, shrugged, and hazarded that we'll get a line that will "look and feel like 2Mbps".

Little the wiser, the committee came to the same conclusion most of us reached a while ago: that nobody really knows what's going on. "We are concerned that the Government is committed to a Universal Service Commitment of 2Mbps, with a budget of £200m, without a clear definition of what it means," it said.

There's been a similar flurry of fudging on the proposed three strikes rule . The government replied to a petition on the Number 10 Web site downplaying the likelihood of "technical measures" such as bandwidth restriction or even disconnection. However, the Open Rights Group warns us not to "be confused by the government's semantics", asking, "When is 'disconnection' not disconnection? When it is 'account suspension', of course."

Even if the two-meg mystification is cleared up, there's still controversy over the government's involvement in the development of a next-generation network. The committee questions whether a regressive tax is the solution, when the market will probably meet the demand for high-speed Web connections. The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones quotes an anonymous MP who reckons "the only people using 100Mbps right now are online gamers and crooks downloading movies for nothing".

We'd like to hear your thoughts on the subject, Digital Britons. Which is more important to you: 2Mbps broadband for all, or a super-fast next-gen network? Comments are open below.

Update: The Guardian reports that the secretary of state at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills -- currently Lord Mandelson -- will decide on how long the upper limit for any 'account suspension' should be.

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About the author

Rich Trenholm is a senior editor at CNET where he covers everything from phones to bionic implants. Based in London since 2007, he has travelled the world seeking out the latest and best consumer technology for your enjoyment.

 

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