- 22 Apr 09, 14:54 GMT
Earlier this week I wrote that we were still no clearer about who would pay to bring superfast broadband to every corner of the UK. But after today's Budget we are perhaps a little more clear about the way the government plans to get bog-standard broadband to places that don't have it now.
The chancellor put his weight behind the proposals in Lord Carter's interim Digital Britain report for a Universal Service Obligation for broadband. He even suggested a speed and who would pay for it. The answers? 2Mbps (not "up to" I note) and you, the BBC licence fee payer. But relax, he's worked out that there's enough money swilling around in the pot set aside to help with digital switchover.
£803m was ring-fenced from the licence fee to help people who might struggle to afford new equipment as they were obliged to switch to digital television. The National Audit Office recently calculated that as much as £250m of that might not be spent. All sorts of people were looking at that money and licking their lips, but it looks as though it will now be transformed into the Broadband Switchover Fund.
But there are still a few questions to be answered. The chancellor said in his speech that the aim was to reach "virtually" everyone by 2012. Right now, depending on whose figures you believe, just 1% of the country - or around 250,000 homes - cannot get broadband access. So who will still be left out after 2012?
Then there is that 2Mbps - will that be enough to count as broadband by 2012 when around half the country will have access to 40Mbps or more?
And finally - is £250m really enough? I suppose that depends on what kind of technology is employed. A friend who knows about these things told me the other day that covering the country with Wimax masts - which should supply 2Mbps - would only cost £750m, and you'd think there would be enough of a commercial market in Wimax to cover the shortfall.
In any case, the government says that any extra cost could be met through "additional funding mechanisms", whatever they may be.
In short, it does look as though we've taken a significant step towards universal broadband coverage. Now all we need to do is sort out who will pay for the next generation network the government says is even more vital for our economic future.
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