Trade spectrum for fibre broadband, says NESTA

The government should trade radio spectrum to telecommunication firms to speed the rollout of super-fast fibre broadband, according to a science and technology development group.

In a report, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) called on the government to find a way to ensure all of the UK can access super-fast broadband within five years, suggesting a "Spectrum for Speed" deal which would see the government give telecoms access to radio spectrum in a swap for new networks.

NESTA's chief executive Jonathan Kestenbaum said: "In exchange for a major government asset, the telecoms industry would need to rapidly deliver nationwide access to super-fast broadband and provide free basic broadband where appropriate to those on low income support."

Contrary to previous claims that a fibre rollout could cost over 28 billion, NESTA said such networks would require just 5 billion in funding. By offering telecoms radio spectrum worth that amount, the government could help drive the installation and create as many as 600,000 IT jobs over the next four years.

"The case for this type of deal is compelling - in unprecedented economic times, we have to think imaginatively about how we can invest in major infrastructure projects whilst not cutting off large swathes of communities from economic and social development," Kestenbaum said in a statement. "We cannot let this recession lead to further erosion and social exclusion."

Indeed, NESTA also called on the government to give free broadband to poor people, extending current plans to offer grants to students and their families to get computers and internet access.

The NESTA report was released ahead of a long-awaited Digital Britain plan, which is expected to lay out the government's broadband plans.