Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 16:36 UK

Government backs 2Mbps broadband

Laptop computer, SPL
Almost 40% of the UK will have access to speeds up to 40Mbps by 2012

The UK government has signalled its commitment to ensuring everyone in the country has access to broadband speeds of two megabit per second by 2012.

Earlier this year Lord Carter set out his interim recommendations for Digital Britain, in which he proposed a Universal Service for broadband.

He recommended a minimum of 2Mbps, which the government has now backed.

The Treasury said the cost would be met in part by underspend from the BBC's promotion of Digital TV switchover.

The government's backing of 2Mbps was contained in the Budget Report.

Speaking to MPs at the House of Commons, the chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said: "It is vital to ensure the entire country and economy benefits from the digital age.

"So I am allocating extra funding for digital investment, to help to extend the broadband network to almost every community."

2Mbps - will that be enough to count as broadband by 2012 when around half the country will have access to 40Mbps or more?
Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology correspondent

That speed would "allow virtually everyone to experience the benefits of broadband, including the increasing delivery of public services online".

It added: "It will also offer advantages to UK businesses, both those located in areas that will benefit from the network upgrade and those that make use of online channels to engage with their customers."

The government said Universal Service would be complemented with "further support to improve basic digital skills and promote broadband take-up".

Widening access

The Budget report said the cost of Universal Service could be met in part by the Digital Switchover underspend.

The National Audit Office has calculated that as much as £250 million of a larger £803 million might not be spent.

The government said it would be discussing with the BBC Trust on the best use of this money.

In a statement the BBC Trust appeared to broadly welcome the move.


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It said: "The BBC Trust can accept the prospective value of universal broadband access and take up, consistent with the public purpose of helping deliver the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services to the public."

The government said other costs associated with widening access to broadband could be met as per Lord Carter's recommendations.

They were that the cost be spread between "communication providers, and those who provide communication services over the network", namely the owners of the networks and the Internet Service Providers.

The Digital Britain report also said the consumer would have to contribute to access "beyond a certain point".

It is not yet clear how the Universal Service will be delivered technically - either through fixed line, satellite or wireless broadband access.

The government said the details of how Universal Service is rolled out will be contained in the final Digital Britain report, due in the Summer.

In a statement, a BT spokesperson said: "We are looking at the details of the announcements made by the chancellor today.

"Significant investment will be required to keep the UK ahead of the game in communications sector and BT is already playing its part. Today's announcement sounds encouraging and we look forward to receiving further details."

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