Long before his his current incarnation as antigallican Eurocrat – in the days even before the version of him that allegedly whispered about Gordon Brown, or had trouble filling in mortgage applications -- Peter Mandelson coined, or at least helped popularise the term ‘Broadband Britain’.
Hard to believe that 10 years ago even many of the most advanced UK digerati were confined to ISDN or a 56 kilobit modem for their surfing needs. Today, even Mum has DSL and so do many in remote communities, inhabitants of small islands, and dwellers in vales and hills. However, there remain many, many black spots where, despite the best efforts of protesters, DSL is not on tap and WiMAX remains a pipe dream.
Now BT wants to give UK citizens even faster internet speeds, providing up to 10 million UK households with fibre-optic links. That’s wonderful for those in urban conurbations that get the super-fast speeds afforded by state-of-the-art cabling but it might be that Broadband Britain is putting the cart before the horse.
The new BT plan will doubtless help make the PC the epicentre of home entertainment, accelerating the transmission and downloading of high-definition movies and the like, but that will be cold comfort to the many areas cut off from the party and still waiting all these years later for a DSL connection.
Don’t forget that the original concept of Broadband Britain as defined by Mandelson and the Blair administration was to foster competitiveness among UK businesses. The internet has given lift-off to thousands of small firms that join the global marketplace and supply chain thanks to a minor alteration at their local exchange. Extending this franchise is more important than taking the fight to television, the DVD, the cinema and the CD.