Telcos welcome Digital Britain report

By Andrew Laughlin

UK fixed line operators have welcomed the Digital Britain report, but issues still remain over funding of future broadband rollout plans.
Announced yesterday, communications minister Lord Carter's final report has outlined a variety of measures to fund the government's universal broadband pledge.

Alongside using the £200 million surplus from the digital switchover fund, a 50p monthly charge has also been proposed on all fixed telephone lines.
The report has estimated that the levy could generate between £150 million to £175 million every year towards the plans.
BT chief executive Ian Livingston praised the "ambitious report" with its "strong vision" for the years ahead, particularly in regards to the importance placed on broadband.

However, he cautioned that the government must "find ways to encourage investment in super-fast broadband, particularly in the parts of the country where the economics currently do not work".
"BT is alone in having an open network that hundreds of other companies can and do access, so we are well placed to be at the heart of the government's plans," Livingstone said.

"Funding should only be available to companies that are prepared to open their networks to others to ensure that UK retains the most competitive telecoms sector in the world. The principles announced [in the report] are welcome, it's important now that they are implemented effectively."
A Virgin Media spokesperson declined to comment directly on the proposed landline levy, but did offer the following statement: "As the government's Digital Britain report acknowledges, the market for super-fast broadband remains embryonic.

"But we think that demand is set to grow rapidly in the coming years and the government is right to focus on Digital Britain, not just digital cities.
"The government has a potentially useful role to play in supporting and promoting network investment in those areas of the country where it's clear the market won't provide and, at first glance, its proposals seem like a balanced response."

Ed Mayo, chief executive of campaign group Consumer Focus, welcomed the report's acknowledgement that broadband is "essential" for the UK's future.

"Unless next generation broadband reaches the whole population, a digital divide will be created for consumers," he pointed out.

"However, cost conscious consumers will be asking why they have to foot the bill for the government."