Minister confirms commitment to broadband
Funds forthcoming, future bright
"We are determined to commit funds to broadband," government minister Nigel Griffiths told the Access to Broadband Campaign conference in London yesterday.
Griffiths, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Construction, Small Business and Enterprise, was challenged to say what the Government was doing to bring about the dream "FiWi" future, of fibre and wireless, which Lindsey Annison called for earlier in the session.
He warned that: "Nobody can foresee the future," and added: "That's why we assemble with people like you - people with practical experience, and our own expert advisers, to find out what you people think are the issues."
In response to a NewsWireless challenge: "What are you doing to bring about the Fibre-Wireless, FiWi future, given that we don't see BT doing much yet?" Griffiths suggested that there was no dragging of feet - but that it wasn't necessarily clever to jump in.
"I've tracked this issue for some time," Griffiths said. "The number of cul-de-sacs we could have gone down for the last five years, is considerable"
His experience, he insisted, was revealing: "I worked with Douglas Alexander when he was the e-commerce Minister (after the last election) and I did many seminars with him. It is interesting, four years on, to look at what we were being urged to do, and see what actually happened. For example, we spent £9m, I think, on rural broadband pilot schemes at that stage. We were testing everything from sending data over electricity wires, and wireless, and various types of wireless, including satellite wireless." He clearly regarded some of the experiments as failures.
The Minister re-affirmed his support for Community Broadband Network. "Effective use of broadband is key to economic productivity and competitiveness. This is well understood by Britain's competitors, and to our inward investors; we have to make sure we have the right environment and infrastructure," he said.
Things are good, Griffiths said enthusiastically. "We have the most extensive broadband market in the G7 group of countries; we are ranked second in the 60 leading countries for 'e-readiness' - which means having an infrastructure available to take advantage of internet commerce."
Griffiths also hinted that the BT 21st Century Network project might solve any perceived problems.
His enthusiasm was only slightly spoiled by ABC director Brian Condon, who called for realism, and quoted OECD figures to show that in terms of broadband installed per head of population, Britain ranked right next to "average" and hopelessly behind world leader Korea.
Condon controversially called for a shift of attitude from "managing scarcity" towards "exploiting abundance" by releasing what he called the "middle mile block" in bandwidth.