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Unconnected to my last blog post, which also involved the Financial Times, the front page of today’s print paper devotes a significant chunk of space to news that

“Every household in the country will be guaranteed access to broadband internet, according to a draft report by Lord Carter on the future of the telecoms and media industries.”

The story is also available online, as is an analysis piece to which the top half of page 3 is devoted in print.

We already have a ‘universal service commitment’ that guarantees availability of postal and telephone services across the UK, and for years there has been high level consideration of the idea that Internet access should enjoy similar guarantees. It would appear that Lord Carter (the UK Government‘s communications minister) may finally be about to make good on ideas that have bubbled up (and sunk back down again) throughout the lifetime of this Labour Government.

The proposal, contained in a draft of his Digital Britain report, is that any UK household will be entitled to receive download speeds of 2 megabits per second by 2012.

The paper quotes Ofcom figures suggesting that 40% of UK homes lacked broadband access in 2008, but doesn’t go on to quantify the proportion of those that were unable to connect as opposed to merely unwilling.

Lord Carter is quoted as saying that

“[broadband] is an enabling and transformatory service and therefore we have to look at how we universalise it.”

On the surface, at least, notions of universal access are obviously to be welcomed. The devil though, as ever, lies in the detail.

How expensive will this basic entitlement be for those taking it up? What about the cost of the computing equipment? If there is a skills gap, how will that be addressed?

Is focussed investment to refresh and extend the existing provision of broadband-connected computers in every UK library (a service that remains free in most, and should never have been charged for in the few local authorities that took the insane step of introducing charges) actually a more cost-effective way to achieve very similar social ends?

What, too, about that speed guarantee? 2Mb? TWO megabits? By 2012? Firstly, do they mean 2Mb, or do they mean the dreaded ‘up to’ 2Mb? I, for example, pay for an 8Mb connection, usually achieve about 5.5Mb and have never seen more than 6Mb. Secondly, isn’t 2Mb a little bit pathetic as a target to aim for in 2012? Some parts of the UK already see many times that on the same technologies and far more if they’re on fibre. The intention is correct; the target is conservative, considering that it comes from a supposedly visionary document.

Ever-more consumers getting online with ever-faster connections bodes well, of course, for those seeking to build and sustain services that run in the Cloud. If people can reach them and use them at speeds that enable a compelling experience, then everyone stands to benefit.

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