U.K. promises investment in high speed broadband

LONDON – The government is set to invest in high speed broadband, only months after a report that it commissioned said the communications industry should pick up the bill instead.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said investment by the government in next generation Internet infrastructure would be vital in helping the economy recover and in keeping unemployment low. He announced that up to 100,000 jobs would be created in different areas through a range of government schemes.

“When we talk about the roads and the bridges and the railways that were built in previous times – and those were anti-recession measures taken to help people through difficult times – you could [by comparison] talk about the digital infrastructure and that form of communications revolution at a period when we want to stimulate the economy,” he told the Observer newspaper. “It’s a very important thing.”

(The move follows U.S. president-elect Barak Obama’s promise to improve rural broadband coverage, as reported here. So far Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has give no hint of whether his upcoming federal budget will include broadband infrastructure spending.)

The Communications Management Association said it welcomed the news: “Not only is this announcement good news for the U.K.’s job market during this difficult economic downturn, but it will also help towards improving the U.K.’s competitiveness in a global market by ensuring continued investment in information and communications technology.”

Nevertheless, exact details of the British investment have not been announced. Downing Street did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last month Brown said investment in technology overall would help reduce the effects of the recession.

In September, the British government commissioned Caio report concluded that all the costs and work to build high-speed networks should be left up to internet service providers. It said there was “little evidence” in the short term that the U.K. would “suffer from the lack of an extensive next generation access network”.

That report drew a mixed response from the ICT industry, with some observers saying that ISPs would struggle to recoup the costs, and others pleased the government had been told to “come off the fence” regarding internet infrastructure.

Both BT and Virgin Media were highlighted in the Caio report for their investment in fibre optic infrastructure so far. In July, BT announced it would spend

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