Investing millions of pounds of public funds into building a faster internet connection for the UK might not be enough, the House of Lords has warned, suggesting an entirely new approach is needed.
In a report that also outlines plans to switch the way we receive television from broadcast masts to the internet, the House of Lords has criticised the government's internet strategy, calling a £530m project to extend connections to rural communities flawed.
"The spectre of a widening digital divide is a profound source of concern which requires the government to address its origin with greater vigour than we believe is currently the case," the committee said in its report.
Called Britain for all - an alternative vision, the report goes on to urge the government to look further ahead than 2015, by which time the government hopes to have internet speeds rivalling the best in the world.
The report says BT "is planning to use this public funding to invest in technologies which may meet the speed targets set by the government, but which looking beyond 2015 are both relatively constrained and liable to necessitate an expensive phase of upgrade, if not outright replacement in the future."
Presenting an alternative solution, the House of Lords suggests the government should look into the cost of creating a national network of "fibre hubs." These hubs would be placed in every town and village that is not connected by fibre to the rest of the UK's internet.
The hubs would then deliver high-speed internet to surrounding villages through fibre connections, or even wireless technology to the most remote properties. Each hub would be owned by the company that installs them to encourage greater competition.
This plan would ensure that rural areas of the UK are kept up to speed with the rest of the country, where before major cities would be the first to get faster internet, leaving outlying towns and villages further behind with each upgrade.
The House of Lords committee adds that these fibre hubs would eventually lead to every home being connected to the internet via its own fibre line, in much the same way homes are connected with copper wire to a local exchange now.
BT against the plans
BT is against the plans, however, stating: "A shared network is essential if the maximum number of homes are to be reached with fibre. That's because it maximises your bang for your buck.
"Point-to-point fibre may be the preferred option of some, but it would require the taxpayer to foot the associated £28bn bill, something that isn't going to happen in the real world. Every internet service provider can access BT's network on equal terms so none of them will have a competitive advantage."
Speed targets outlined by the government have also come under fire from the committee, which suggested that estimates should be based ten years ahead, adding that by 2020 those who now have 2Mbps could need as much as 64Mbps to keep up with furture demands from streaming HD television and other services.
The report adds: "What is important is the long-term assurance that as new internet applications emerge, everyone will be able to benefit - from inhabitants of inner cities to the remotest areas of the UK. Success to the internet should be seen as a domestic essential and regarded as a key utility."