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The public sector should take a minor role investing in high bandwidth broadband capacity, according to a senior Ofcom official.

Peter Phillips, partner for strategy and market developments at the communications regulator, said public investment should be "targeted at areas left behind by the markets".

Speaking at a Westminster eForum conference, Next Generation Broadband, on 6 November 2008, Phillips said that Ofcom believes the private sector should play the leading role in providing the infrastructure for broadband connections of 25-30Mbps. This largely reflects Ofcom's belief in the primacy of private investment, but also that the difficult economic outlook weakens the case for public intervention.

He acknowledged, however, that some areas may prove relatively unattractive for private investment, and that there is more scope for the public sector to get involved in the few areas that do not have broadband coverage.

"The public sector should consider action to implement private investment but not crowd it out," he said.

Phillips added that at this stage it is difficult to predict the limits of private investment. He pointed out that before its implementation there were estimates that the existing broadband network would reach just 60-70 per cent of the country, but it has achieved a much higher level of penetration.

Conference chair Nick Palmer MP said the private sector is more likely to step up its investment if the benefits of high bandwidth services quickly become apparent and prompt a surge in public demand.

The UK's existing broadband network has been installed almost entirely by the private sector, although there have been some government initiatives to make it available in rural areas. The Public Sector Broadband Aggregation programme provided the impetus for rolling out the infrastructure in parts of Wales, and in North Yorkshire the county council and Yorkshire's regional development agency are providing extra capacity on their own network for internet service providers.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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