- 8 Sep 08, 10:09 GMT
How much is it going to cost to bring ultra-fast broadband to Britain? Well, BT and Virgin say they're both doing just that over the next couple of years, for an investment of a couple of billion pounds between them. But, according to today's report from the Broadband Stakeholders' Group, the final bill could mount as high as £29bn.
So why do the two companies most likely to build a next-generation network think it can be done for so much less than the government's advisory group has calculated? Well, it all depends on what you mean by "ultra-fast broadband" - and by "Britain". BT's recent announcement was a step-change in its policy towards fast broadband - previously it had been highly sceptical - but it was still only talking of covering 40% of the country, and relying mainly on "fibre-to-the-cabinet" not "fibre-to-the-home." Similarly, Virgin's plans involve building on its existing infrastructure rather than digging up half the country.
What the Broadband Stakeholders Group does in today's report is look at both ends of the fast broadband spectrum. The £29bn bill is for a full fibre-to-the-home option for the whole of Britain. It puts the bill for fibre-to-the-cabinet - the cabinet being that box you see on the corner of your street with the trailing wires and a BT engineer pulling his hair out - at a far more manageable £5bn.
So which are we going to get? Well the BSG doesn't really have any answers to that but it does warn that we are staring at a new digital divide of enormous proportions whichever route we take - and the faster the broadband we choose, the bigger the gap between town and country is likely to be.
To illustrate that, it's produced two maps showing which areas of Britain will get fast broadband quickly and which face a very long wait. One map involves the fibre-to-the-home option, the other fibre-to-the-cabinet. The BSG, unusually for a rather staid government advisory group, is also issuing a rallying cry. It's telling people in far-flung parts of Britain, where the bill for extending a fast broadband network will be eye-wateringly expensive, that they need to start making a noise now. The message seems to be "make enough fuss and you can make sure policy-makers don't leave you out when it comes to building the future of Broadband Britain."
So have a look at the maps - and work out which side of the digital divide you will fall in.
PS. You can see the maps in greater detail here (in pdf format).
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