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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 08:45 GMT
Government 'holds key to universal broadband'
Person at PC, BBC
Broadband is next stage for internet access
Jane Wakefield

A publicly accessible government broadband network could be the answer to affordable and universal high-speed net access in the UK.

So says Jim Norton, head of Deutsche Telekom in the UK, and a key government advisor on broadband and e-commerce.

Broadband net access is seen as essential to the competitiveness of UK businesses and also highly desirable for home users. But so far it has failed to catch on in numbers, due to the availability and cost of the service.

As the UK's biggest purchaser of broadband, the government could hold the key to unlock the broadband bottleneck, said Mr Norton.

"Government could be the catalyst for infrastructure providers to make affordable broadband widely available," he told BBC News Online.

Trying to persuade the Treasury to come up with a pot of money for broadband infrastructure goes against government thinking

Jim Norton, member of Broadband Stakeholders Group
According to Mr Norton, the government has given quiet assent to the idea of a government network that could in turn be used by the public.

"It is not making a huge amount of noise about it because it is pretty difficult to do. It will be a slow-burn programme which will require warring departments to work together and local and central government to do the same," he said.

Warring departments

"The government won't be laying the cable but providing the incentive for providers to do so," he explained.

The idea is that government departments in each region in the UK work together to get one broadband provider at the cheapest price.

The infrastructure would need to be universal in order to incorporate remote schools, doctor's surgeries and other public services.

The broadband services could then be sold on to private individuals at an affordable price.

The government has recently rejected calls from its own broadband committee to build a new nationwide infrastructure to compete with BT's existing fibre network.

Pilot scheme

Mr Norton, who sat on the broadband committee, is not surprised the government has ruled out this publicly funded broadband infrastructure.

"Trying to persuade the Treasury to come up with a pot of money for broadband infrastructure goes against government thinking. The government's role lies in its power as a purchaser not as a provider," he said.

The government is already piloting a brokerage scheme, in which local businesses, government departments and private individuals collectively bid for broadband services.

It is providing funding for this and is hopeful the scheme can be extended to other parts of the country.

See also:

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Broadband goes down the drain
18 Jan 02 | Business
BT told to lower broadband cost
15 Jan 02 | Business
NTL boosts broadband plans
14 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Will 2002 be the year of broadband?
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