The role for public sector intervention in next generation broadband

The role for public sector intervention in next generation broadband

Ofcom’s Super-fast broadband blog recently raised the issue of ‘when and where?’ public sector intervention in next generation broadband would be required. This is a key issue, and something that the BSG has examined.

The BSG’s position has been, and continues to be, that next generation broadband deployment in the UK should be market-led. The market is most likely to achieve efficient and timely investment. This said, there will likely be a role for public sector intervention in the future, such as there has been to date, for example in South Yorkshire.

What is important to remember is that next generation broadband is very different to first generation broadband, in this instance for two key reasons: the length of time required for deployment; and the magnitude of the costs involved.

Deployment could take many years, particularly if FTTH was deployed, and so it could be 5 or 10 years, or more, before the market has finished its deployment. This is significantly longer than first generation broadband.

Therefore, the question we need to ask is this: can we afford to wait this long before addressing areas the market doesn’t reach? Given how quickly the digital divide has developed since the deployment of broadband (not yet 10 years old), it would be difficult to see how this would be acceptable.

The costs involved also change this debate. We can be more certain about where the market is likely to deploy to – we recently published a report showing how the costs breakdown across the UK, and how the deployment costs increase as you reach more rural areas. We also have experience from first generation broadband, and know where those places are that were the last to receive broadband, or still cannot access it.

Given what we know, we need to have the debate about how we bring superfast broadband to those areas unlikely to be covered by commercial deployment. This is not to say that the government should write a cheque – this is not necessarily the way forward at this time. But thought needs to be given to finding creative solutions to address the looming digital divide on the superfast-broadband horizon.

Peter Shearman, Policy Manager, BSG