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Ofcom insists on emergency roaming

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Broadband and 999 calls are what the public needs most, according to Ofcom's consultation on Access and Inclusion.

The latest consultation is about getting telecommunications to everyone in the UK, and sets out priorities for Ofcom. The regulator has a mandate to ensure everyone gets to be part of the information age, which goes beyond fixed telephony and digital TV coverage - both already enshrined in law.

Ofcom is very concerned that users lacking coverage with their own network can't make 999 calls at the moment. Oddly enough they used to be able to, but the system was suspended around a decade ago due to an unexpectedly high number of hoax calls. Now that the novelty of mobile communications has worn off for most of us, Ofcom wants the networks to handle 999 calls for their competitors' customers by the end of 2009. This already happens in most European countries, so shouldn't be a technical problem for the operators.

When it comes to broadband, Ofcom has to deal with Lord Carter's report and its commitment to 2Mb/sec for the whole country. Skipping lightly over what "2Mb/sec" actually means (maximum, minimum, average, peak?) Ofcom reckons that 15 per cent of the population can't get those speeds today, though that doesn't seem to be the biggest barrier to entry for the 40 per cent of homes still lacking fast connectivity.

With broadband penetration appearing to reach a plateau at 60 per cent, Ofcom has been asking the public why they don't want broadband. 55 per cent of the unconnected aren't interested in this "internet" thing at all, and just don't want it, 30 per cent can't afford it, and 15 per cent fall into both camps - can't pay, won't pay. Only one per cent of the unconnected would like access, but can't get any form of broadband (satellite excepted) for technical reasons.

Ofcom reckons education is key here: make people understand what they are missing and that 55 per cent will get themselves hooked up, for the good of society as a whole. After all, the regulator points out, increasing "media literacy" is part of its remit.

The consultation is open for comment until June 3. ®

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