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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 18:36 GMT
UK to speed up broadband
UKonline website
High-speed internet access remains too expensive
A push to speed up the growth of fast internet access has been made by the UK's e-commerce Minister Douglas Alexander.

Speeding up the roll-out of broadband:
better access to local telephone exchanges for broadband providers
more investment in broadband by government bodies
tax credits for research and development by content providers
measurements of service quality
tax breaks for small firms' internet bills

Source: e-envoy
A series of measures to boost the broadband market were announced to map out the way ahead for both the government and industry.

In a separate move, the UK government has launched a massive marketing drive to convince the young and the old, the computer illiterate and those not even vaguely interested, that the web can indeed be a valuable resource.

The launches came as a political storm was brewing over the role played by the former gas regulator, Clare Spottiswood, who has reportedly been asked by the Treasury to advice on how to expand high-speed internet access for the UK people

The current high cost of high-speed internet access in the UK is the biggest deterrent for people considering taking up the speedy surfing service, a survey by Support.com has showed.

The newspaper Sunday Business saw the involvement of Ms Spottiswood as a snub against Oftel, the telecoms regulator, which is technically the one responsible for improving competitiveness and market access in the telecoms industry.

An Oftel spokesman said that the agency was committed to working with the government to introduce broadband services to the UK.

Between BT, cable companies and third parties buying wholesale ADSL services from BT, there were already about 270,000 broadband customers in the UK, he said.

Broadband boost

Less than 1% of the UK people have fast internet access, placing Britain last among the Group of Seven nations in broadband penetration.

To speed up the roll-out of broadband, the advisory body Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) has recommended better access to local telephone exchanges for providers of broadband, noting that local loop unbundling where BT opens up its "last mile" of telephone lines to other providers had been "disappointing".

BSG also called for more investment in broadband by government bodies, along with stimulus packages to content providers.

And it wants measurements of service quality to be introduced.

These measures have been approved by the e-commerce minister, but BSG's recommendation that small firms should be given broadband grants was rejected.

Instead, the government has vowed to introduce tax breaks that would cut small firms' internet bills, as well as tax credits for research and development for content providers.

Delays

The e-envoy's 3m marketing campaign, which was launched on the same day as the broadband push, "is the first consumer facing campaign since the Prime Minister officially launched the UKonline initiative in September 2000," the campaign's dedicated website proclaimed.

Esc button
There will be no escaping the marketing campaign
Which may not be such good news given that the government has been under fire for doing to little to make sure the internet becomes a success in the UK.

Coming in the wake of the burst of the internet bubble, the initiative is likely to be much less efficient than it would have been had it come sooner, critics said.

Yet, the campaign is expected to make quite a splash.

TV adverts

In addition to the website, there will be TV adverts featuring celebrities, including Stephen Fry, Liz Smith from the Royle Family and Jenny Powell.

In November, a 40 seconds advert will explain "the benefits of going online and how UKonline Centres give internet access and advice," according to the statement on the website.

The advert will be followed by a second, shorter 20-second version which will be screened early next year.

"Viewers are encouraged to call a help line for more information on UKonline and details of their most convenient centre to try out the internet," the statement said.

Help the aged

UKonline plans to launch a joint venture with the charity Age Concern and the bank Abbey National to enable those over 50 to access the internet.

Age Concern will open up its centres across the UK to offer opportunities to surf for free with expert support from volunteers.

"Open House hopes to show older people that the Internet is an easy-to-use resource that is relevant to their lives," the statements said.

See also:

01 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
High prices cost broadband dear
28 Nov 01 | Business
Europe to punish broadband laggards
19 Nov 01 | dot life
Is broadband working?
14 Nov 01 | New Media
Sony and AOL strike broadband deal
28 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Cost of broadband net 'must fall'
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