Government delays universal broadband until 2015

Rural areas will have to wait up to another three years to get fast broadband access.

Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, told an industry conference being held by Broadband Delivery UK, part of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills: "Last month, I announced that we were supporting a universal service level of 2Mbit/s as the very minimum that should be available.

"I have looked at the provision the government had made to achieve this by 2012. And I’m afraid that I am not convinced that there is sufficient funding in place. So, while we will keep working towards that date, we have set ourselves a more realistic target of achieving universal 2Mbit/s access within the lifetime of this parliament."

One of the new government's first actions was to cancel a £6 a year levy on each phone line to raise up to £175m a year to help bring broadband access to underserved areas.

Instead the government is hoping to rely on the private sector, and various changes to regulation to bring broadband to these communities.

Hunt's department plans to establish a series of rural market-testing projects to find out how to make broadband commercially viable in rural communities as well as urban areas, and to understand what kind of government support will be necessary. The projects should be in place within a year.

The government is also considering opening up access to the existing infrastructure of telecoms and utilities companies, and to public-sector networks that are already in place.

"Should we make it a requirement for utilities companies like Thames Water, for example, to lay empty fibre pipes every time they dig up the roads to avoid having to go to the same expense again?" he asked the assembled audience of industry players.

Hunt promised to listen to their feedback and to return in September "with a clear plan for the legislative change that we need, and a clear timetable for making it happen".

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