Gordon Brown: Super-fast broadband for all. Also, please vote for us

The prime minister has announced that he wants super-fast broadband for everyone in the UK -- but questions remain about what that really means and whether this will avoid a two-speed system

Ian Morris
2 min read

Let's assume you've got a few months left to live. If you thought you could get another five-year crack of the whip, you'd probably be inclined to promise virtually anything to secure it. Wouldn't you?

In completely unrelated news, Gordon Brown has announced that he'd like to provide super-fast broadband to everyone in the UK. The PM even described fast Internet access as the "electricity of the digital age".

The statistics for internet usage are interesting. According to Brown, 21 per cent of the adult population has never been online, which probably explains why it's still possible to buy pornography printed on paper. Our illustrious leader also claimed that people who could access online shopping might save as much as £560 a year over their high-street-reliant counterparts. But we don't need to be convinced that broadband for all is a good idea -- what we want to know is how the Government is going to make this happen.

The fiercely debated 50p tax on fixed-line phones is going to play a part in funding this, but there are still a number of questions left to be answered. Exactly what speed will people get and how will it be delivered? If the idea is to lay optical cables around the country, who will manage them, and who will pay for the costs that a 50p tax can't cover?

The Guardian reports that the requirement will be to deliver 50Mbps broadband to 90 per cent of the population by the end of 2017. The thing is, 50Mbps is a technological reality now via Virgin's cable infrastructure. By the end of the year, Virgin will be on 100Mbps and by late 2011 the company expects to deliver 200Mbps to its subscribers.

So even if this plan were to be adopted, we still run the danger of ending up with a two-class digital economy. Those with spare cash in urban areas lucky enough to be on a Virgin-like network will be able to speed along the information superhighway, while those on the government's network could be left in the dust, comparatively speaking.