The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) – the government’s advisory group on broadband – will today publish a report identifying potential models for efficient and effective public sector intervention in the deployment and take-up of next generation broadband in the UK. It makes several recommendations for public sector bodies that might be considering such projects.
Next generation broadband has the potential to deliver significant social and economic value in the long-term. However it will be costly to deploy and will only become available progressively, leading to an uneven distribution of broadband capability across the country. If predictions about the benefits associated with these new services prove correct, then this could have a differential impact on consumers, dependant on where they lived. If this became a critical concern for policy makers, public sector interventions could be required in the future to support deployment to areas that would otherwise remain unserved.
The BSG does not advocate wide-scale public intervention in next generation broadband at this stage. However, a number of pilot projects have been proposed in the UK and these could provide valuable insight into different models of intervention. These pilot projects should however conform with the report’s suggestions on best practice.
Antony Walker, CEO of the Broadband Stakeholder Group explains, “Next generation broadband could be of real value to families, communities and businesses across the UK. Even though we are at the beginning of this transition, we need to be vigilant about the risk of new persistent digital divides opening up. That’s why this report is important. By testing out models of intervention now, the UK will be better prepared to intervene efficiently and effectively if it needs to in the future.”
Having examined various projects across Europe the BSG report identifies six critical success factors, which if met, should help to ensure that interventions prove efficient and effective. The report also makes several recommendations including a call for greater co-ordination at national level between public and private sector organisations involved in broadband projects.
Walker continues, “There remains a lot of uncertainty about next generation broadband and there is much that we can learn through well designed pilot projects. However, we’d like to see better sharing of experience at a national level – from planning to evaluation – and more cooperation on common ways of doing things, like technical standards and the development of wholesale products. We don’t want to see a patchwork of disjointed networks emerging that lack the scale to succeed.”
The BSG believes it is appropriate to encourage next generation broadband deployment in areas of new build, regeneration and redevelopment, but argues that pilots must have a clear rationale and must attract multiple service providers in order to offer choice to consumers.
The report begins with a practical definition of efficient and effective public sector intervention. It then examines various public sector interventions in next generation broadband across Europe. Based on this analysis the report categorises the main reasons for intervention and different approaches to it. It finds several common issues in the projects it examined from which the critical success factors and recommendations made in the report are based.
The BSG, with the support of the South East England Regional Development Agency (SEEDA), commissioned Analysys Mason to write the report in early spring this year. It will be launched alongside a report on the social and economic value of next generation broadband at the BSG’s conference, ‘Beyond Pipe Dreams’ in London today.