A month into the new government's lifetime and we get our first real statement of technological intent... well, sort of. For despite culture and media secretary Jeremy Hunt's tweets about working on a new broadband policy what we got was a lot of vague aims and aspirations: a lot of cappuccino froth when what the broadband industry is calling for is double-shot of the strong espresso.

His speech on broadband didn't contain anything radically new. He reiterated the government's intention to can Labour's £6 levy on fixed lines and once again raised the prospect of using BBC licence money to part-fund the rollout (I know it's not going to happen but wouldn't it be great if some of the funds needed could be raised by a levy on Sky satellite dishes? I'd love to be a fly on James Murdoch's wall if that were proposed).

To be fair to Hunt. he's been dealt a bad hand. Like the railways, there's been minimum investment in the underlying infrastructure in the past 20 years. It was obvious some time ago, that there was a growing need for some strong investment to take advantage of emerging broadband technologies - I remember various bodies calling for a national fibre grid as long ago as 1988 - but successive governments have chosen to leave it to the markets.

There lies Hunt's dilemma. He's a member of a party whose very DNA is to leave everything to the markets (and in this particular government's case, one with a firm commitment to cut current government spending radically). Yet, over the last 20 years, this market obsession has seen the UK slip from having one of the most advanced communications infrastructures in Europe to one that lags behind many countries.

Hunt says that he wants to change things "We are now ranked 33rd in the world when it comes to broadband speed, with an average that is nearly five times slower than South Korea",  But he can work himself up into a lather of indignation as much as he likes, the fact is, the UK has left broadband infrastructure to the private sector and the private sector has failed to deliver. The last Labour government let us down but there have been governments before that have played a part too.

What's more, Hunt's call to use water, electricity and gas ducts has been complicated by the fact that all those industries were broken up and privatised by a previous Conservative government, making it much harder to co-ordinate access agreements. One only has to look at the number of times a stretch of road can be dug up by various utility companies to realise how little co-operation there is between these firms.

Hunt knows what sort of level of broadband he has in mind. Ars Technica has further details on his speech in which he praises South Korea and Singapore for their broadband initiatives - but both of these are based on substantial government investment, and even more crucially, are much smaller and more concentrated urban population.

One area where Hunt is absolutely correct is when he says "Superfast broadband is not simply about doing the same things faster. It's about doing totally new things - creating a platform on which a whole generation of new businesses can thrive."

It's great that he's ambitious, it's great that he's thinking ahead and it's great that he sees the potential for the UK. It's also fantastic that he's seeing the need for fibre. But he's been hit by a quadruple whammy: a country whose comms infrastructure needs upgrading, where the government's broke, where the utility industry is fragmented and where an unusually large number of people live rurally - it's very nice living in a commutable village just outside London - very nice, until you try to get broadband in.

It's a tough task and despite his best intentions, I think he'll have a tough time in pushing through the changes that are needed. I do think, however, that in the lifetime of this parliament he might have achieved his aim of moving the UK from 33rd in the world when it comes to broadband - my bet's on 36th.



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