Now is the time to remove the highway tolls

While passing a radio a week ago, I heard that Swindon – a town in the UK – will be offering free wireless broadband for all its 186,000 residents. Several days later, my colleague David Hawkridge mentioned that, while not free, Finland  (and Spain) will make affordably priced broadband of 1 Mpbs available to every citizen by 2011.

For a number of years now, Singapore, where an excellent telecommunications market exists largely as a result of government strategy, has forged ahead in terms of broadband access. Intelligent Nation 2015 will ensure that, by 2010, virtually every citizen will have high-speed broadband access.

Here in the UK, and following on from the Digital Britain White Paper published in June 2009, the Digital Economy Bill promises a universally available broadband service in the UK by 2012 achieved through a public fund.

Whether it’s the free model of Swindon or the market-manipulated Singaporean example, one fact is inescapable: for a state, institution or individual to realise its full potential, online access is crucial.

For educators in the UK, where many of our work-based, part-time, distance learning students do not have access to the stable on-campus Janet network, this is even more important.

I very much hope the new bill achieves what it claims it will (or rather that its clear desire to concentrate on copyright infringers allows it the time to do so).  

Because this is where  true innovation is needed. One can only imagine how society would benefit if online access were as free, easy and second nature as breathing. For me, the benefits to a state of having universal broadband access far outweigh any cost of subsidising this access.

In a gold rush, those who sell the pick axes and pans make the fortunes, and only rarely do those who use the tools to dig out the gold. As a taxpayer, I’d much rather ensure the tools – primarily the broadband access – were freely available so that everyone could get at the ‘gold’ of the Internet.

Can the free market model do this? I doubt it very much – it couldn’t save the bankers. That job fell to the state and the taxpayers.

Simon Kear

Learning Technologist

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