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Delivering Digital Britain

The CWU is campaigning for economic growth, job creation and social inclusion in a digital Britain.

 

 

Superfast broadband networks have the potential to create jobs and boost the UK's fragile economy, but the Government's target for the best broadband network in Europe is doomed to fail without a much stronger commitment to public investment.

The private sector is forecast to take superfast broadband to two thirds of UK homes and businesses by 2015, and further public sector funding may help it to reach 90 per cent of premises. But without far greater public sector investment, the remaining 10 per cent of the population will be left the wrong side of a rapidly expanding digital divide.

The CWU is calling for:

A legally binding universal service 'obligation' for broadband 
The Government's 'commitment' to universal broadband of 2mbps by 2015 is a promise of best endeavours and does not guarantee roll out to 100% of homes and businesses

Far greater public investment for the swift universal roll out of fibre and other high speed broadband networks 
The market has made it clear that it will only deliver superfast broadband to two thirds of the population unaided. The government has pledged a total of £700m investment for broadband by 2015, but this falls a long way short of the full amount needed to cover the remaining third and avoid a widening digital divide.

Efficient Allocation of public funding for Broadband

The most cost effective way to deliver broadband across the nation is to maximise the value of investment by using companies with the capacity and the expertise to deliver a large scale solution. Poor coordination of superfast broadband development based on small independent projects risks losing out on potential economies of scale and increasing the cost of widespread access, undermining the business case for risk investment. The CWU has been lobbying the government's broadband delivery arm, BDUK, in the regions to ensure that investment is channelled as efficiently as possible.

A requirement for Ofcom to promote workforce training in the telecoms sector, which is vital to delivering a successful Digital Britain 
The CWU has been campaigning for some time for a requirement for Ofcom to promote training which would ensure the telecoms workforce has the necessary skills to build a world class digital infrastructure for the nation. The Tory-led government recently scrapped a legal requirement for Ofcom to promote workforce training in the broadcasting industry, making this ambition more difficult but no less important.

A level playing field for competition in the pay TV market 
Ofcom has started to address this issue partially by ensuring Sky provides two premium sports channels on a wholesale basis, but there is more work to do. Greater competition in pay TV will generate the innovation and lower prices required to drive demand for faster broadband services, which is essential to delivering broadband investment for the UK.

Sky should be required to offer more of its channels, including premium film channels, on a wholesale basis, if we are to see fair competition, more choice and lower prices for consumers.

The Competition Commission has recently (May 23 2012) announced provisional findings of an investigation launched in August 2010 into the market dominance of Sky Movies. It has found that Sky's position on premium film content does not provide Sky with a material advantage over its rivals. However the Commission said competition in the pay TV retail market overall is ineffective but that the scope of its current investigation was limited by its terms of reference. There will now be a consultation process before the Commission publishes its final views.

What you can do 
This campaign is relevant to both CWU members and the wider public, because it promises to benefit society as a whole through job creation, improved access to online goods and services, and better prospects for economic growth and social cohesion.

Branches and members can play a vital role in promoting these aims, by spreading the word amongst colleagues, friends, and family, and lobbying your MP to promote these aims and provide government support for better, faster broadband in your area.

Further background:

The Coalition Government has set itself a goal of delivering the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. But the Government has committed only £700m of public investment until 2015, which has been widely criticised as being nowhere near enough to ensure high speed broadband reaches every UK citizen.

The London School of Economics published a paper in April 2012 arguing that the shortfall in funding for the Government's broadband objectives is between £1.1 billion and £1.8 billion, depending on the amount provided by local authorities.

The French government by contrast is committing £570m every year between now and 2025 to achieve its broadband aims, completely overshadowing the UK's plans and threatening to leave us struggling behind our European competitors.

The French programme will be funded by a tax on fixed and mobile phone connections. This is similar to a proposal put forward by the previous Labour government in 2010 which was then scrapped following opposition from Conservative MPs.

A universal high speed broadband network is going to be vital to support the UK's fragile economic recovery and create much needed jobs and growth. It is also essential to enabling every UK citizen to participate fully in the digital economy and society, providing access to government online services including health and education, as well as benefiting from cheaper goods and bill paying.

A report by the Boston Consulting Group in October 2010 for internet search engine Google put the value of the internet to the UK economy at £100bn and says that it is growing at 10 per cent a year. But it warned of a digital divide that will see many rural parts of the UK, including much of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, losing out on jobs, business and revenue unless the government supports investment in high speed broadband networks to those areas.