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Carter mulls spectrum for speed bargain

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Lord Carter could recommend that the government give away the old analogue TV spectrum to telecoms companies in exchange for commitments to invest in fibre rollout for high speed internet access, according to the latest leak from his forthcoming Digital Britain report.

Flogging the UHF band to the highest bidder once it is vacated in 2012 had been expected to raise billions of pounds for the Exchequer. Carter's report will instead suggest it is used as a bargaining chip to extract the private billions that will be required for UK broadband speeds to remain competitive with economic rivals worldwide, the Sunday Times reports.

Free UHF spectrum could allow BT or others to offer high speed wireless data services, including to areas where fibre deployment would be uneconomical.

The "Spectrum for Speed" strategy has been promoted by Nesta, an innovation quango. Its chief executive Jonathan Kestenbaum said: "In unprecedented economic times, we have to think imaginatively about how we can invest in big infrastructure projects while not cutting off large swathes of communities from economic and social development."

Internet industry coalition the Broadband Stakeholder Group has estimated that a ubiquitous fibre to the home network could cost more than £29bn. BT has so far committed £1.5bn to rollout fibre as far as roadside cabinets in densely populated areas, proposing downstream speeds of up to 40Mbit/s.

Virgin Media's cable network covers about half the country and there are no plans to extend it. It is currently being upgraded to the DOCSIS 3.0 standard, which the firm says will be able to carry data downstream at more than 200Mbit/s. Both incumbents view the potential to deliver high definition multichannel TV over the internet as one of the main commercial attractions of next generation networks.

Last week details of Carter's anti-piracy proposals began to emerge. It has also been reported he will recommend a merger between Channel 4 and Five.

The wide-ranging report is due to be published next Monday, January 26. ®

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