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The Independent

Britain Delays Universal Broadband Goal

The previous Labour government's ambition to bring broadband to every household in Britain by 2012 was dashed yesterday when the coalition pushed back the date by three years, blaming a lack of funds.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, pledged to bring in the "best superfast broadband network in Europe" by 2015 but said universal broadband of at least 2 Mbps would not be a reality in the next two years, although it would be in place "within the lifetime of this Parliament."

Speaking at an industry event, he added: "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."

The provision of universal 2 Mbps broadband was a cornerstone of the Labour administration's Digital Britain report last summer. It found that about 160,000 households had no access to broadband, while 11 per cent of homes, about 2.75 million, could get broadband but slower than 2 Mbps.

Many of the problems resulted from faulty home wiring, random network effects and the copper telephone network being stretched too far, said a spokesman for BT (BT).

The Government has pledged to use £200m left over from the digital TV switchover fund to increase the number of homes on broadband. Mr Hunt did not say yesterday where the extra money needed would come from.

Separately, the Government is looking at the issue of bringing super-fast broadband to the whole of the UK. Virgin Media's 50 Mbps service covers half the country's households, and BT has pledged to roll out its fibre network to two-thirds. The Government is consulting on how to bring the network to the so-called "final third." This refers to the rural areas that are not economically viable for companies to cover without support.

Mr Hunt has called for a "market-led solution" and will review the situation before introducing subsidies, potentially including a slice of the BBC's licence fee. Steve Robertson, the head of BT's Openreach division, said that if the Government wanted to bring fibre to every home in the UK, public funding of at least £2bn would be needed, which would be matched by the private companies.

Mr Hunt stressed the Government's commitment to overhauling the network, saying: "All of us recognise that the broadband network is as fundamental to Britain's success in the digital era as railways were in the industrial revolution."

from London, for Independent minds

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