Letter: BT deal: a return to 'fix-it' politics

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The Independent Online
From Mr Patrick Whitten

Sir: Labour's deal with BT on a broadband network seems puzzling ("Blair seals pact with BT", 6 October). To link up schools, colleges, libraries, hospitals, etc is at first sight a worthy aim. But with scores of cable, satellite and terrestrial TV channels, teletext, e-mail, even the dreaded Internet, what would they get in the way of programming and information that they don't have already? Anyway, many teaching hospitals have had their own fibre links for years, while most cable operators link their area schools just for goodwill. And it still begs the question of where the new services are to come from.

The cost to BT of such a "social" commitment is minimal, yet the benefits of being a dominant entertainment player against the cable companies are incalculable. Sir Iain Vallance will surely have earned his salary and dividends if he pulls this one off. But it is strange, too, that such a deal was arranged without consulting the industry as a whole, or even the regulator, Oftel. Not especially fair, perhaps.

Telecoms, a pounds 400bn global industry in which Britain has a keen international edge, should not be subject to such foibles. Discouragingly, Labour's deal betokens a throwback to its past "fix-it" attitudes to big utility businesses.

Meanwhile, politicians of all parties seem determined to latch on to the "superhighway", whatever that is - remember the wired society fiasco of the early Thatcher period? Despite 25 years in the industry, I've still not received my Superhighway Code. Has anyone else?

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Whitten

Chairman

CIT Research

London, W1

5 October

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