Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 11:52 UK

MPs to investigate UK net speeds

Lord Carter tells Jeremy Paxman why wants a broadband tax to be imposed on phone lines. Broadcast on 17th June 2009.

MPs sitting on the Commons Business and Enterprise Committee are to open an inquiry into broadband speeds in the UK.

It follows the publication of the Digital Britain report, which lays out government strategy for the internet.

The committee will look at whether the promise to hook all homes up to a minimum 2Mbps (megabits per second) speed is "ambitious enough".

It will also discuss whether the proposed broadband tax is fair.

The so-called broadband tax will mean anyone in the UK with a fixed line telephone will have to pay an extra 50p a month on their telephone bill.

The money raised will fund next-generation broadband rollout to areas that traditionally have been bypassed by broadband providers.


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Some experts have questioned whether the amount raised by such a tax will be enough to fund next-generation rollouts to the 30% of the country estimated to be left in the slow lane.

More controversial is the government's commitment to provide all homes with a minimum speed of 2Mbps by 2012.

While few doubt such an ambition is achievable, many think the government should be aiming for a higher speed.

In South Korea, for example, the government has set a minimum 1Gbps (gigabit per second) target for all homes.

Committee syndrome

Alex Salter, co-founder of broadband comparison site SamKnows, thinks it is important to remember that the 2Mbps target is "the very least the government wants us to have".

In terms of the broadband tax it could be the only way to get faster speeds to rural areas, he thinks.

"There are no other obvious options. This is one of the few valid ways that the government can intervene," he said.

The bigger question, according to Mr Salter, is whether the recommendations of the report can survive a change in government.

"It may be future-proofed in terms of the technology but will it be in terms of the politics?" he asked.

Others questioned the need for another inquiry into the state of broadband in the UK.

"The direction of broadband in the UK is running a real risk of suffering a death by committee syndrome, when other countries have set their countries and working towards actual network builds," said Andrew Ferguson, editor of broadband site ThinkBroadband.

"An unpopular truth is that if we as a nation want faster broadband, we will have to pay for it somehow, either via a levy, tax or through the bills we pay to firms for our broadband," he added.

The Digital Britain report, drawn up by Communications minister Lord Carter, took eight months to write and covered a wide range of issues, including copyright law, the future of public service broadcasting and digital radio.

The MPs have called for written evidence from interested parties by Friday 25 September and will publish a report shortly afterwards.

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