UK government to push back broadband target, cancel cross-media rules

The UK government has revealed details of its plans for the media and broadband industries ahead of the introduction of a planned new communications bill in 2012.

Key elements in the government’s programme for media and broadband, unveiled by culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, include pushing back the target of universal broadband coverage of 2Mbps from 2012 to 2015 and a scaling back of regulator Ofcom’s areas of responsibility.

The government also plans to abolish local cross-media ownership rules and to allow licensing of new local TV stations from the summer of 2012. Negotiations over a new BBC licence fee settlement will begin in April 2012, following a decision on whether to allocate some of it to fund broadband rollouts in rural areas.

“ I want Britain to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe, and I will do everything I can to incentivise business to invest in this, so we can get there by 2015 – opening up the infrastructure and levelling the playing field for new investment. We will roll back media regulation where it’s preventing growth,” said Hunt. He said that he wanted to “take away the barriers that prevent investment in local media”.

Decisions on Ofcom’s role will be taken between now and September ahead of the forthcoming public bodies reform bill.
The government said it will also work with Ofcom to require BT and other infrastructure providers to open up their next-generation networks to alternative providers, and said it would move to “create a level playing field between incumbents and new providers” in deliver fibre networks. Super-fast broadband will also be tested in three rural areas from April next year.

The government will take a decision on whether to use some of the BBC’s licence fee to fund rural broadband in January 2012.