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Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
BT launches fast net connection
UK customers are finally able to sign up and receive a high-speed internet service from British Telecom.
BT has rolled out its long-awaited broadband service for retail customers, which will allow download speeds 10 times faster than current internet connections, and access to television quality video and movies.
It will also offer a special news service from BBC News Online.
BT says it already has 100,000 customers who have registered an interest in the service, and hopes to have one-million broadband users by the end of next year.
By that time, 70% of households should have access to exchanges which offer the new high-speed internet service, called ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber lines). It uses ordinary phone lines to send a highly compressed signal to the home which is "always on".
BT Openworld President Ben Andradi told BBC News Online the move was the beginning of a "dramatic change" in internet usage which would end the "world wide wait" and encourage the use of rich multimedia content on the web.
He also rebutted claims about the long delay in actually making available the service, saying that BT's roll-out throughout the UK in the next 18 months was "one of the most aggressive in the world," after billions of pounds of investment.
And he promised that once the service reached 20% to 30% of internet users, prices would begin to fall significantly.
Mr Andradi said the service would be highly competitive not just in terms of speed or price but also in the richness of the content being offered.
There are fears that the new broadband services could make it easier for hackers to break into home personal computers, because they wil have 24 hour access to the network.
Computer experts are warning users to install extra security devices, such as firewalls, to prevent unauthorised access, especially to financial data.
Delays raise questions
BT had signalled its intentions to introduce a broadband internet service as early as November 1998, the year in which US broadband services were first widely marketed.
It gave further details of its plans in July 1999, but it was not until November 1999 that it reached agreement with telecoms regulator Oftel about opening its exchanges to rival internet service providers.
BT again announced its intention to launch its Openworld offering this April, at a time when there was much talk about free unmetered access.
But BT's rivals have complained that they are still being blocked from offering their own broadband services because BT wants them to sign contracts imposing unlimited liabilities if their own equipment interferes with that of BT at the exchange, without any reciprocal obligation on BT.
They also complain that they are not being allowed to join forces to share the cost of linking their own networks to the BT local exchange.
Freeserve, however, has announced that it will run its own broadband service from 4 September.
Rivals move in
Most analysts believe that broadband has the potential to transform the way we use the internet, speeding the integration of digital television, computers and home entertainment.
But opinion is divided on which is the most effective delivery system. Cable operators can send their signals through their own digital cable networks, offering potentially higher speeds and greater capacity.
And the new generation of mobile phones will allow broadband internet access as well.
Cable operator Telewest already operates its Blueyonder service in Southeast England, while NTL has begun trials of its broadband service.
In the United States, the need to provide broadband internet services was one of the driving forces behind the $350bn merger of America Online and Time Warner, as well as a $100bn link-up between AT&T and several cable operators.