Page last updated at 12:47 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Lord Carter defends digital plan

Lord Stephen Carter
Lord Carter said the debate about broadband was ongoing

Lord Carter has been defending his report into the state of digital Britain and in particular his decision to set a 2Mbps (megabits per second) baseline speed for UK broadband.

His interim report was published at the end of January and has drawn criticism.

The decision to offer a minimum of 2Mbps was necessary to kickstart the movement of government services online, said Lord Carter.

It was "not an option" to leave people out of the digital revolution, he said.

Ludicrously low

Speaking at a meeting organised by Nesta, (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), Lord Carter hit back at his critics.

"Those who say that a Universal Service Obligation of 2Mbps is a ludicrously low ambition miss the point," he said.

"There is going to be 30% of the country not covered by traditional markets and I'm not prepared to leave them behind. It is not an option to say that we will find a mop-up solution in 10 years' time," he said.

Setting a baseline of 2Mbps, which the government is hoping to be able to offer to all UK homes by 2012, was vital for what Lord Carter described as the "digital switchover of government services".

"In our judgement two megabits is a base level that means people can access government services and have an acceptable user experience," he said.



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Making services available digitally could be one of the "biggest prizes" of the digital age, he said.

Already some key government services are available online and most accept that making others available will save a huge amount of money as well as putting citizens back in control of their relationship with government.

Lord Carter revealed that he was in talks with European ministers to make amendments to the European Telecommunications Directive which, if implemented, would see a Universal Service Obligation for broadband offered in all member states.

Critics have pointed out that 2Mbps may not be enough to support the bandwidth-hungry applications such as the iPlayer which are increasingly becoming must-have applications for consumers.

Virgin Media has just begun to migrate customers using its 2Mbps service up to a 10Mbps service, as part of its policy to upgrade its network to support speeds of up to 50Mbps.

Lord Carter was keen to point out that the interim report was in no way the end of the line on government strategy for broadband, saying the point of publishing it was "to draw people into the debate."

Some think he is just being realistic with his 2Mbps strategy.

"He has had a taste of how difficult it is to get everyone up to 2Mbps," said Alex Salter, co-founder of SamKnows, a broadband website.

"There are issues with mobile broadband and there are still plenty of "notspots" in places you wouldn't expect them, such as Kent. He might want speeds of up to 100Mbps but he also has to be realistic," he said.

Lord Carter also used the meeting to criticise what he described as a "superficial misunderstanding" of how the UK would roll out next-generation networks (offering speeds of up to 100Mbps).

"It is not a question of either the government provides the funding or let the market decide. This is about how we marry public policy and the market," he said.

Personal data

The wide-ranging Digital Britain report, the full version of which is due to be published in May, will also look at how the government regulates content in the internet age.

Lord Carter described it a "turning point for the creative industries", in which the UK is a world leader.

Peter Bazalgette, media expert and ex-head of Endemol UK, was at the Nesta debate and questioned how media companies would make money in future.

"The truth is that not a single media company knows what its model will be in ten years' time," he said.

But he offered his own insight into how users will pay for content.

"In future all content will be paid for either by people's attention spans or their personal data," he said.

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