Following yesterday's announcement by the Prime Minister that every primary school and medical centre will be on broadband by 2006, Sir George has written to the Miister for e-commerce, asking how this will work.
"In villages like Overton, Oakley, Kingsclere, Highclere and Whitchurch, BT will not roll out broadband. But if the school has broadband, then others may benefit from access. We need to know exactly what is going to happen - hence my letter, see below.
Stephen Timms Esq MP
Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness
Department for Trade and Industry
1-19 Victoria Street
London SW1H 0ET 20th November 2002
I was pleased to learn that the Government plans to arrange for all schools and doctors' surgeries to have broadband Internet connections by 2006. On behalf of my constituents, I write to ask for more information about the "what, how and when" of this commitment.
As you will be aware, many people living in villages and rural areas of my constituency do not have the opportunity to connect using either of the most popular and cost effective broadband services, xDSL or Cable. Some suppliers are offering various combinations of satellite and local wireless
connections, but the former is more expensive and less flexible than xDSL or cable, while the latter requires a substantial local investment because the suppliers, just like BT with xDSL and the cable companies, will only deploy where there is a clear return on their investment.
In addition to these constraints, the gap between cities and the rest of country is widening not narrowing, as suppliers start to deliver much higher capacity in the cities and compete there to offer customers a wider choice at lower cost. Left to market forces, we can expect to see urban areas using
"true broadband" (ie 2 megabits per second and higher) while the countryside, country towns and villages still have 56kbps modems or at best of the order of 500kbps through other means as their standard connection.
You will be aware of the controversy surrounding BT's campaign which promotes ADSL at 256kbps as "broadband", since that level of performance will not support many of the uses for which broadband is being advocated - by Government as well as by suppliers.
Accordingly, it is of great interest to my constituents to understand just what is meant by delivering broadband to local schools and GP surgeries. If this means "true broadband", then it presents an opportunity to provide access to everyone living in the catchment areas of schools and surgeries,
by negotiating such arrangements with the suppliers who implement the government's commitment. Uncertainty about what the Government and the suppliers will do and when is one of the factors that inhibit local communities from taking on the daunting task of a do-it-yourself local solution; they are concerned that the effort and the expense for the local community will be overtaken by either technology changes or government or supplier actions.
It is therefore essential that announcements such as this should be accompanied by clear information as to what is meant in this context by "broadband" and what delivery mechanisms are intended. Otherwise government is simply adding to the confusion.
I look forward to your early response.