The controversial Digital Britain bill promised 2Mbit broadband to everyone by 2012 plus a £6 tax. The Conservatives upped the ante considerably claiming 100Mbit broadband to the majority of homes by 2017. Now as election fever heats up Labour is back with a new sound bite...
Demanding Britain become a "world leader of the digital economy" (yep, that phrase has been rolled out again), prime minister Gordon Brown has pledged "Superfast" broadband by 2020 saying this will directly lead to the creation of over 250,000 skilled jobs.
"Superfast broadband is the electricity of the digital age. And I believe it must be for all - not just for some," he declared. "We have already decided to commit public funding to ensure existing broadband reaches nearly every household in Britain by 2012. Now government must decide what action it will take to bring about universal access to the next generation of superfast broadband, simultaneously ensuring the highest quality content is available online and available to all."
"The choice with broadband infrastructure is clear," he continued. "We can allow the market to provide a solution on its own terms and according to its own timetable. The result would be superfast broadband coverage determined not by need or by social justice, but by profitability. This would open a lasting, pervasive and damaging new digital divide. It would allow the country to become split between a fast-track and a slow-track to the future, between those fortunate to live in densely-populated areas and those not."
Yes this is low on detail and high on political rhetoric and - according to 2008 results from Ofcom - actually incorrect (the regulator has previously claimed rural broadband households exceed urban in broadband use). That said, the vision is an honourable one and left to its own devices companies would almost inevitably target more densely populated areas for the latest technologies since they would prove more profitable.
How Labour can effectively change this natural evolution, however, is tricky since laying down fibre across great expanses of countryside is a hugely expensive process to reach tiny villages and towns. I've also heard it argued that if you want the benefits of clean air and open green expanses the compromise is crappy broadband - though there are obvious counterpoints to that.
Either way, both Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems know broadband is likely to be a key issue with a general election creeping ever closer. So let's have some more meat on these bones from all the political parties, since a good answer may just sway our vote...