Jeremy Hunt Promises 600,000 Jobs From Broadband

After an accidental insult on the BBC, Jeremy Hunt repeated the government’s broadband plans

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed the government’s £530 million plan for “the best broadband in Europe” by 2015 would create 600,000 new jobs today, after an unfortunate slip of the tongue gave him a new name.

However, online commentators said the Culture Secretary had failed to address the most serious issues in a speech at the Reform think tank in London, which  repeated existing government plans for £530 million of public money for broadband, and re-branded roadside fibre cabinets as “digital hubs in the community”.

BT prepares for fibre monopoly?

Fast broadband will create 600,000 jobs in the UK, Hunt said on the BBC’s Today programme, shortly after the programme’s James Naughtie inadvertantly gave him a new rude name, rhyming with “Hunt”.

Picking himself up from the slip, Naughtie asked Hunt how the government could promise “the best broadband in Europe by 2015”, when it will be mostly up to the private sector to deliver that – a question Hunt did not answer.

The “600,000 jobs” claim is attributed to investment body NESTA in Hunt’s Reform speech, while the academics at the London School of Economics put the figure at 280,000, and the Federation of Small Businesses believe fast broadband will add £18 million to Britain’s gross domestic product.

Hunt also claimed that “nearly 50 percent of households can now access speeds of 50Mbps”.

He repeated the government’s promise of £530 million of public money before 2015, and announced that BT has promised to match any of that money which the government decides to put its way.

£530 million by 2015, £830 million by 2017…

No new money was announced today, but Hunt spoke of £830 million towards faster broadband, which includes £300 million to be made available after the goal date of 2015.

The broadband funding still stands at £230 million which was left over from money the government had put aside for switching over that nation’s TVs to digital, and £150 million per year taken from the BBC’s licence fee money, starting in 2013-2014.

The licence fee money will continue until 2016-2017, making another £300 million, and a total of £830 million in public funding over the next seven years.

Naughtie queried whether the BBC licence fee should be used to fund a network which provides alternative ways to watch BBC content – often without paying a licence fee.

Hunt’s speech also included a promise of £50 million for a “second wave of superfast broadband market testing projects”, which was reported in some places as new money”. A spokesperson from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed to eWEEK Europe that this is simply an announcement of how part of the £530 will be spent.

“A honking mess”

The Guardian‘s Charles Arthur described broadband policy as “a honking mess” which failed to address the issue of access to BT’s infrastructure: “What is needed is for the government to decide whether it really likes monopolies, or market-driven solutions, and actually get on and do that. Because at the moment it’s uncomfortably straddling both.”

The fibre being rolled out by BT will be available for use by other providers, but the company will still have an unfair advantage, according to Arthur.

BT will share its ducts and poles, according to terms which will be published in January, but only BT will be able to use its fibre to offer broadband to businesses – who are the only customers that will pay a premium for the service.

Also, the DCMS has refused to review the “fibre tax” regime, under which companies are charged business rates on fibre, as if it were a building, but which charges BT a far lower rate – about five percent that paid by its competitors.

“We don’t want fibre to a privately owned street cab[inet] or exchange,” said Computer Weekly’s Lindsay Annison. “Because that would a) imply that we want to extend a 100 year old monopoly yet further and b) are building onto an obsolete network.”