Universal service commitment
22 The Universal Service Commitment and the Next Generation Final Third project are separate projects and need to be addressed in turn.
23 Firstly, the Universal Service Commitment. More than one in 10 households today cannot enjoy a 2Mbps connection. We will correct this by providing universal service by 2012. As such, the UK’s Commitment leads Europe. It has a measure of future-proofing so that, as the market deploys next-generation broadband, we do not immediately face another problem of exclusion. The USC is also a necessary step if we are to move towards digital switchover in the delivery of more and more of our public services.
24 The Universal Service Commitment will be delivered by a mix of technologies: DSL, fibre to the street cabinet, wireless and possibly satellite infill. It will be funded from £200m from direct public funding, enhanced by five other sources: commercial gain through tender contract and design, contributions in kind from private partners, contributions from other public sector organisations in the nations and regions who benefit from the increased connectivity, the consumer directly for in-home upgrading, and the value of wider coverage obligations on mobile operators arising from the wider mobile spectrum package. The Commitment will be delivered through the Network Design and Procurement Group, with a CEO appointed in the Autumn. We will also discuss with the BBC Trust the structure which gives them appropriate visibility in the delivery process of the use being made of the Digital Switchover Help Scheme underspend, which will be realised in full by 2012.
25 The UK’s overall electronic communications infrastructure – for mobile and fixed broadband and voice, for corporate communications, for digital TV and sound radio – compares favourably with any in the world. But the first strains are beginning to show: under-investment in backhaul networks – the so-called middle mile – in fixed networks is becoming increasingly apparent. In mobile, the very success of broadband will increasingly lead to congestion in the existing spectrum. Other countries are investing heavily in upgrading their networks to take advantage of technology change. Like our energy and transport infrastructures small variations in performance can have major ripple effects and major costs to the wider economy.