The government has confirmed that it wants universal access to 2Mbps broadband by 2012, arguing that this is vital for the future of commercial and public services.

Its Digital Britain report, published yesterday, also sets out plans for a “digital switchover” for public services once the 2Mbps universal service commitment has been achieved.

This would make online the primary means of accessing services, with just a “safety net” for those unable to use the internet. Early candidates for digital switch over are identified as school registration, student loans and personal tax returns.

But all government departments will be expected to identify “at least two services” for digital switchover by 2012 or earlier.

In another section likely to impact on health, the report also says that it wants to see further rationalisation of government websites, networks and other IT services.

It wants to create a “G-Cloud” of business applications to add to the GSI secure email system used by the Department of Health and other Whitehall departments.

In the meantime, it says: “all those government bodies likely to procure ICT services should look to do so on a scaleable, cloud basis such that other public bodies can benefit from the new capability.”

To make sure government bodies are using common standards and systems, the report also recommends that the government’s chief information officer should sign off on all new internal system procurements.

The report also promises a “single point of access” for government data sets, with a panel led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee advising on how to make more creative use of public information.

Digital Britain says 2Mbps universal broadband will be delivered through a mix of existing networks and a new network to reach the “final third” of consumers who cannot be covered at the moment.

It says this will be funded through a Next Generation Fund pulled together from a number of pots. After several months of fighting with the BBC, the licence fee will be used, alongside a “small levy” of 50p per month on all fixed copper phone lines.

Both proposals caused disappointment, with commentators arguing that the government was trying to get relatively slow universal broadband on the cheap, while still hitting the elderly and vulnerable groups with the levy.

The report says the government’s £300m Home Access scheme for low-income users will help to bridge the “digital divide”, although it also expects businesses to fill the gap by developing a second-hand market in computer equipment and creating pay-as-you-go broadband packages.

It also recommends new programmes of ICT skills for adults and a National Plan for Digital Participation to “increase motivation to get online.”

The report says “almost half” the population used the internet to find information about government or local council services last year. It also holds up NHS Choices as a beacon, arguing that it has brought about a “step change in e-health delivery in the UK”, with 5.2m visitors a month.

Link: Digital Britain 2009