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No broadband? Support the digital TV switchover

Internet and broadbandWe live in a country where 65 percent of people are unaware about the ongoing digital TV switchover (aka: analogue TV switch off), and 3 million households can't get 2Mbps broadband - the Government's stipulated minimum internet connection.

Trouble is, the two aren't entirely unrelated (they're not siblings, but they definitely shouldn't get married - not even in Norfolk).

The whole point of the analogue switch off is to free up bandwidth and enable better connectivity for all. When analogue TV is finally switched off in 2012, part of the freed up spectrum will be sold off to be used to provide mobile broadband coverage for 99 percent of the UK population.

This, it's hoped, will at least partially drag the UK out of the digital dark ages, and allow us to compete on a marginally less uneven playing field with countries such as Japan and Korea, where fibre-optic superfast internet access is considered a utility, rather than a luxury.

Of course, it's not a perfect plan. Nothing like it.

But even on a small island such as ours, when wired connectivity is left to privateers such as BT and Virgin, economics dictate that the remote and the poor will always be left out. When BT is shedding jobs by the bucketload, it's certainly not investing in more lines.

Take Virgin's much-vaunted plan to add half a million households to its cable network. It will focus only on those areas that are cheap to upgrade (and more likely to turn a quick buck). Or, to put it another way, it won't put even a 500,000-sized hole in that 3 million household notspot. The houses that will get new cable will almost all already have decent wired connectivity.

So for the short and medium term, connectivity over the airwaves looks like our best bet for ubiquitous internet. But the analogue switch-off is unpopular - more than a quarter of households have no digital TV connection, and no-one likes to be told that they have to buy new technology to enjoy services they have always taken for granted.

Call me crazy, but I suspect there may be a change in government in the next 18 months or so. We're guaranteed a general election before 2012. It'd be a populist and relatively pain-free move for one or all of the major parties to pledge to reverse the analogue switch off, and safeguard 'normal telly' for years to come.

After all, with BBC iPlayer, 4oD and the rest, why do you need extra TV channels?

As a nation, we're just about dumb enough to go for it, but it may cost us much, much more.

[Full disclosure: Matt Egan pays way too much each for both mobile and fixed-line broadband, and satellite TV. Bah.]

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