- 16 Jun 09, 19:35 GMT
This morning, as he visited the Crystal Palace digital television transmitter, the Prime Minister made an extraordinary promise. Just hours before the publication of Digital Britain, he said this:
"Britain's going to lead the world. This is us taking the next step into the future, being the digital capital of the world, making the necessary investment."Make no mistake - that is a hugely ambitious statement - a bit like the manager of Manchester City promising that his team will win the Champions' League within the next couple of years.
International comparisons of broadband speeds are pretty difficult - nobody seems to collect reliable data - but to be top of the league you have to compete with the likes of South Korea and Japan, where many householders have come to think that 100Mbps is just about the least they can expect from their internet connection.
So surely Lord Carter would have to pull a rabbit out of the hat in his long-awaited report - after all, the 2Mbps minimum service level that we've been hearing about for months was never going to make Britain the "digital capital of the world"?
Well there was a rabbit, in the form of a levy on every landline to help pay for next-generation broadband.
The government knows that BT and Virgin may well end up bringing fibre connections to as much as two-thirds of the country - though mostly fibre-to-the-cabinet rather than right to the home - but they won't reach the final third because their investors just won't foot the huge bill.
That's where the landline levy comes in. But, at £6 a year on every phone, this new tax is not going to be a huge moneyspinner - it'll raise between £150 and £175m a year, according to the department for business.
I put in a quick call to the Broadband Stakeholders' Group, which calculated last year that taking fibre to every corner of Britain would cost as much as £27bn. Perhaps unsurprisingly this industry lobby group was determined to be positive, insisting that this cash would make a real contribution to keeping Britain in the fast lane.
That may well be the case - but will we lead the world? Look at Australia, where the government promised in April to invest over £20bn to build a fibre-to-the-home network reaching 90% of households. That plan makes Lord Carter's look very unambitious.
Now given the state of the public finances, the UK government was in no position to promise a multi-billion pound investment - and even a £6 tax on the phone bill may not prove too popular.
Still, over the next decade, as much as £1.5bn in extra funding will go towards giving Britain faster broadband. Will that make us a world-champion? Possibly. But, as Manchester City have found, you can spend an awful lot of cash these days and still struggle to reach the top of the league.
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