Thursday, February 04, 2010

UK - CWU blasts damaging Tory plans on broadband

[dsvr] The Communication Workers Union is appalled at Tory plans to break up BT and use part of the licence fee to fund superfast broadband. The Tories have made comments showing they believe that adopting market based solutions can make the UK the first major European country to have internet speeds of up to 100Mbps. They have said they are willing to end BT's "local loop monopoly" and allow rival operators to move in with their own ducts and fibre cables as countries such as Singapore and South Korea have done. They have also said that private investors being allowed to pay for better cabling would encourage competition, and that if the market failed to deliver, then 3.5% of the licence fee currently used to pay for digital switchover could be diverted to pay for broadband expansion

In response, Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary, comments that Conservative plans to deliver superfast broadband to all households by 2017 through private investment and the BBC licence fee are a belated and misguided attempt to answer the nation's broadband needs.

Andy said: "Throughout the Digital Britain debate the Conservatives have argued that public investment was unnecessary to take superfast broadband services to homes and businesses in remote areas. The announcement of plans to use the BBC licence fee to pay for broadband expansion in the event of market failure is a clear shift away from this position, no doubt in a belated attempt to sound plausible and an opportunistic bid to compromise the BBC in favour of some of the private companies who have demonstrated support for the Tories.

"The Conservatives' plans fail to acknowledge that the UK already has one of the most competitive broadband markets in the world which is delivering significant broadband investment to millions of homes and businesses.

"In other countries where ducts have been opened up there has been limited investment in fibre infrastructure by alternative operators due to the high associated costs, and where such investment has taken place it is limited to the profitable urban areas. Singapore and South Korea are not comparable with the UK because of the high level of government investment in broadband in these countries and the fact there is no equivalent access provided to their incumbent's major competitors.

"Rather than "breaking up the BT monopoly", the Tories need to consider the significance of the £1.5bn fibre investment planned by BT to reach 10 million homes by 2012, and what this means for companies like Carphone Warehouse and Sky who will rely on this network to deliver their own services.

"The Conservatives' proposal to divert 3.5% of the licence fee currently used to pay for digital switchover would raise half a billion pounds less than Labour's plans for a next generation access fund. It would also undermine the BBC's ability to maintain a quality service whilst benefiting Tory donor Carphone Warehouse and Sky, whose owner has pledged allegiance to the Conservatives.

"The Labour government has already proposed a plausible method of delivering high speed broadband to the 'Final Third' of the population where the market will not deliver, by introducing a 50 per month levy on all fixed telephone lines, from which low income households would be exempt.

"If we want a world class digital communications network that reaches all UK citizens and consumers, we have to be prepared to pay for some of it through public funding. Most people, particularly those in hard to reach rural areas will see this as a modest cost for an essential service. The market simply will not deliver broadband everywhere, and if the Tories want to sound plausible they need to find a realistic solution to this problem."

CWU blasts damaging Tory plans on broadband

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