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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
BT urges business to adopt broadband
Computer mouse
BT wants to be in driving seat for broadband revolution
BT has warned UK businesses that they risk becoming uncompetitive if they do not switch to high-speed internet links.

The telecoms firm warned that the UK is still lagging behind its European neighbours in broadband take-up.

The company made the comments at the first of a series of summits it is holding, to persuade more companies to make the switch to broadband.

But some businesses said that BT itself had been one of the main reasons for the slow take-up of the technology.

Now is the time

The UK still lags behind many of its European neighbours in broadband take-up with less than 3% of homes and businesses connected.

Admitting that the initial rollout of broadband "hadn't been a success" BT's head of business internet services Tony Harris urged companies to take advantage of high-speed connections or lose competitiveness.

"There has never been a better time for small businesses to connect to broadband," he told delegates at the summit in London.

To help persuade the UK's 1.2 million small businesses to get a broadband connection, BT unveiled a series of initiatives.

Ambassadors

This included a payment plan for satellite broadband which would enable small businesses or sole traders in remote connections to spread the cost of having satellite installed over two or three years.

Broadband and business
93% of UK businesses have less than 20 employees
Less than 3% of SMEs have ADSL
Less than 1% of SMEs have a satellite broadband connection
Lack of awareness is biggest barrier
BTopenworld also plans to donate 1 million to community groups and selected businesses in deprived areas, offering access and equipment free of charge.

It also wants to create a Broadband Ambassadors Programme, awarded to businesses prepared to evangelise the benefits of broadband in their region.

Ubiquitous

Speaking at the summit, Professor Richard Scase - author of 'Britain in 2010' - said that switching small businesses to broadband could have wider benefits for the whole economy.

"More people will be able to work from home which would have major implications on the transport system," he said.


Anyone who has tried to get broadband will tell you that the biggest barrier is BT

Gavin Robertson, MusicIndie
And he predicted that 40% of small businesses would be connected to broadband by 2005.

IT Manager from loss adjusters Davies & Co Nilesh Patel described his firm's experience of moving to broadband.

"It gave us the potential to save two hours per day in dead travel and brought a 40% reduction on office phone bills," he said.

"Within 18 months broadband will be as ubiquitous as the mobile phone," he added.

BT under fire

Not everyone at the conference was so optimistic.

Gavin Robertson, managing director of MusicIndie said that if BT was looking to remove barriers to broadband it did not have to look far.

"Anyone who has tried to get broadband will tell you that the biggest barrier is BT," he said.

"I'm astonished that BT can stand up and take credit for connections so far when a latent market has been screaming for broadband for years," he added.

Confusion

Other audience members agreed that security issues, service level agreements and the problem of having to switch ISP (internet service provider) were all barriers that BT needed to address.

Representative from Hackney Chamber of Commerce Denzil Cummings said many of the small businesses in his jurisdiction were still "incredibly confused" about ADSL, both in terms of whether they could get the technology and what benefits it would bring.

In an audience vote, 46% cited lack of understanding as the main barrier to broadband take-up, while 19% cited cost, and 11% availability.

Since launching its Plug & Go ADSL service in March, BTopenworld has connected 44,000 homes and businesses to broadband.

See also:

13 May 02 | Business
Freeserve in NTL broadband deal
10 May 02 | Sci/Tech
Sky-high broadband for rural areas
26 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
BT's broadband domination plan
24 Apr 02 | Business
BT launches direct access broadband
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