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New competition minister makes broadband rallying cry

Calls for public sector buy-in

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Competitiveness minister Stephen Timms has called for a road map to push forward the UK's move to super fast broadband.

In his first major speech as competitiveness minister, Stephen Timms said the UK is in urgent need of setting out a clear route for its move to super fast broadband and warned that other countries are already ahead of the UK.

Timms was speaking at the launch of a new work programme of the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) - the government's advisory group on broadband. He also announced a high-level summit on the need for public sector intervention in broadband deployment.

In response, chair of the BSG, Kip Meek, called on the government to set a target to benchmark the UK's broadband infrastructure against its key economic competitors.

Next generation broadband will involve the delivery of services capable of providing more than 20Mbps downstream, which would be sufficient to support services such as multiple HDTV feeds, broadband internet and voice services. The new technology would also enable faster upstream access to support more peer-to-peer applications and interactive and user generated services.

Timms commented: "When I became e-commerce minister five years ago, the UK was neck and neck with Croatia on broadband availability and use.

"Together, thanks in no small measure to the work of the BSG, we fixed that problem and put Britain in a leading position. However, today we face a new challenge. Other countries are starting to invest in new, fibre based infrastructure, delivering considerably higher bandwidth than is available in the UK today."

Timms said it was a priority to have in place a high performance telecommunications infrastructure in every part of the country, so the UK could compete on a global scale.

He said the summit, which he will chair later this year, would consider the circumstances that could lead to public sector intervention, and the form and level of intervention this might take place.

"I want it to be an open exchange, to bring together key people from government, from Ofcom, and from industry. It is essential that the UK undertakes timely deployment of technology - we can't lag behind."

Meek added: "We're not looking to government for all of the solutions, but we are looking for ministerial leadership. Communications infrastructure is a key enabler of competitiveness."

In April 2007, the BSG published its Pipe Dreams report, which called for a mix of investment incentives and competition policies to enable a market-led transition to next generation broadband.

Its new work programme aims to push through the report's nine recommendations, including working with local and central public bodies.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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