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UK fixated with ADSL roll-out – Ofcom

Need to look further ahead, says regulator

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Ofcom chairman David Currie reckons the UK has become fixated about the roll-out of ADSL without any regard for what society really needs.

He doesn't believe 512k ADSL is true broadband, describing it as a "convenience product" that will do for the time being until the UK is hooked up to something much, much faster.

Addressing the Communications Management Association (CMA) Annual Conference last week Currie said: "...as a Nation we have set ourselves a target for the roll-out of 'broadband' without having the physical infrastructure for a true broadband access network in place. We can stretch the Plain Old Telephone Services to being a mid-band network. And DSL is that 'stretch' on copper wire. But true broadband it ain't.

"DSL At 512k is a convenience product. A useful help to individuals and SMEs. But it is not the major, life-changing experienced that broadband should be.
"We may have become fixated on roll out at the expense of what it is we, as a society, need," he said.

Instead, he called for a "strategic vision" that would help deliver faster broadband services. And before anyone gets any ideas that the Government should dip its hand into its pocket to fund such investment, hang on a mo. At the outset, Currie ruled out Government intervention preferring to rely on good-old competition to deliver true broadband services.

"We do not 'do' state monopolies well in this country. So we should be just as wary of putting all our eggs in one basket in broadband as we are in other areas of economic activity.

"We have to work with our capital markets and our system. Competition. Let's harness Adam Smith. Our vision has to be that we have to get to 10 Mb, competitively.

He went on: "Because the key point about the broadband inflection is that it doesn't have to be wired. It can be wireless too. Indeed, almost the first decision we took as Ofcom went live was to allocate newly released spectrum for rural wireless broadband services. A more powerful variant of Wi-Fi, it will give communities who cannot get fixed line broadband infrastructure bandwidth of up to 1MB a second. We expect those services to start to come onto the market during this year. The other point about the broadband inflection is that it doesn't have to be just BT. Like Mobile it could be several players," he said.

Elsewhere, the head of Ofcom welcomed a recent parliamentary report into broadband by the Trade and Industry Select Committee (TISC) which, among other things, found that the UK lacks effective wholesale competition for ADSL.

"The Parliamentary Trade and Industry Select Committee hit the nail on the head when they said that: '[we must] make certain that the regulatory framework ensures that commercial decisions by private companies are aligned with the wider economic and social needs of the country'.

"That may sound a truism. But it is very wise. Indeed the whole report by the TISC is an extremely measured and thoughtful contribution to the debate," he said.

Such a view of the TISC report should make this year's review of the UK's telecommunications industry - including a look at the competitive landscape for broadband - most interesting.

The full text of Currie's speech can be found here. ®

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