BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: In Depth: dot life
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

banner Monday, 12 February, 2001, 16:26 GMT
Why are we waiting?

You could be waiting a long time for that fast net link
Everyone was supposed to have high-speed unmetered internet access at home by now. So what's gone wrong, asks BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Typical web users spend a third of their time sleeping, a third watching files download, and a third waiting to have their fast link to the internet installed.

As anyone who has signed up for a fast net connection knows, Broadband Britain is taking a long time to arrive.

And a lot of people do seem to be waiting, judging by the comments posted to net discussion groups dedicated to broadband access in Britain.

Been waiting long? Join the queue
The comments range from resigned frustration to raging anger, with the majority of people reporting a wait of months between signing up and getting a call asking when they want an engineer to visit.

The fuss is over a technology that goes by the snappy name of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line which lets you connect to the internet many times faster than with a phone line and modem.

What can ADSL do?
Domestic ADSL services in the UK will run at a maximum of 512 kilobits per second (kbps) - that's 10 times faster than a phone line and modem.

Even better than the speed, though, is that the service is "always on". That means there's no waiting for the modem to dial in and log on. With ADSL if the computer is on, you are online.

There are no call charges either, just a flat fee every month. No wonder people are keen to get it.

I'm still waiting

The enthusiasm doesn't seem to be dulled by the delays - which in some cases are approaching the heroic.

Berkshire-based Adam Brighton says he has been waiting for more than two years to get ADSL, dating his delay from the time that BT first announced it was on its way.

Who will provide it?
Lots of companies want to provide broadband. But unless they have their own lines going into your house (eg cable TV), then they are dependent on using BT's phone lines
Getting ADSL relies on your local telephone exchange having the necessary upgrades first. Since March 2000, Mr Brighton has been badgering BT to explain why some parts of the company tell him his exchange is ready while other parts say it is not.

As part of his job, Mr Brighton organises the installation of fast data cables for businesses but he says: "If I can't arrange a fast line for a company spending 2,000 a month, what chance as a home user do I have?"

So why the delay?
Demand is outstripping supply
It's also taken longer than expected to sort out how BT's rivals should get access to its phone exchanges - vital if they are to provide their own services
Others such as Richard Adcock waited only a few months. But he nevertheless had a hugely frustrating time involving the same conflicts of information over his exchange, as well as trouble with cancelled installation appointments, lost orders and teething troubles with the service itself.

Mr Adcock says he has spent hours on the phone ensuring that he was actually going to be connected up. Advice given in many of the broadband forums on the net tells people to badger suppliers over the phone to check the progress.

"I visit a lot of forums about ADSL, and I don't think I have seen one person without a problem in getting it installed," he said. "Mine may be an extreme case, but it has happened to others."
So how much will it cost?
Between 30-40 a month for home access. But only those living within 3.6 km of their exchange will be able to use ADSL.

Sebastien Lahtinen, one of the founders of the ADSL Guide website, said most problems occurred during installation. "The feeling that 'many people don't have it yet' is probably due to the long delays caused by BT in installing ADSL lines," he added.

Certainly those that have ADSL or have tried it never want to go back. "Once you get used to the ADSL speeds, it is very difficult to go back to using a modem," said Mr Lahtinen.

He points out that for many of those looking for a fast net connection, ADSL is their only option. Cable modem services such as Telewest's Blue Yonder service may have more than 40,000 subscribers, but there are many areas of the country that it does not serve.

Complain here

It is not just consumers who are decrying the delay - companies are joining the chorus of complaints. To date nine companies have reined in their plans to offer their own-brand ADSL services because of the delays.

Hull's bells: Hull residents have been getting ADSL since 1997
Last week AOL and Freeserve threatened legal action against BT because of the sluggish pace of ADSL installations.

At the moment the only way that homes can be wired up with the fast service is via BT or one of the companies reselling its service. Both rely on engineers from BT to do the actual installation. But with more than 100 companies clamouring for the services of this limited pool of engineers, the number of installations is growing very slowly.

Currently Freeserve and AOL are connecting barely 100 ADSL customers per week. John Pluthero, Freeserve chief executive, said it would take years for a significant number of its 2 million subscribers to get connected. It and AOL have lodged a complaint with the telephone watchdog Oftel claiming that BT is favouring its own service rather than treating everyone the same.

Oftel reports that the UK is last in terms of ADSL rollout when compared to the majority of OECD nations.

French homes are six times as likely to have a fast connection and Germany now has over 500,000 ADSL users. In 2000 the number of US homes with high speed connections doubled to 12 million.

To make matters worse, the UK also seems to be falling further behind. In a report released in early 2000, Oftel estimated that by March 2001, 80,000 lucky British net users would be using ADSL. Instead the figure is likely to be nearer 40,000.

With Broadband Britain, it is rapidly becoming a case of Hurry Up and Wait.

Your comments:

I waited 16 months to get ADSL then eventually got a date for line to be put in and an engineer called to tell me that although I live 3.1km away from an exchange the phone line was laid in such a way as to be 4.5km away from the exchange and i would not be able to get it (3.5km is maximum distance). I now have no options for fast internet access as there are no dates for cable modems. Even though ISDN is not much faster than 56k modems is as expensive as ADSL
Jason O'Connor, UK

Pre-registered with BT nearly a year ago. According to the BT website my local exchange was meant to have been upgraded by Sept 2000. Have still heard nothing and the Sept 2000 date is still the one listed on the BT website!
Dave, UK

I'm lucky enough to be served by NTL in the Bedford area - and when I called them on 24 November 2000 to arrange cable modem installation, they arranged to be with me the following Thursday - 30th. The modem and IP card arrived on the Monday/Tuesday and the engineer duly arrived when expected. He spent an hour or so installing the cabling, and then it just took a quick phone call (you must be joking - have you ever tried to call NTL?) which lasted longer than the engineer's installation. So one week from the initial phone call I was fully up and running. And all for 20 per month too.
Jim Curtis, England

What I want to know is why little villages get ADSL far before citys such as Chester. We cant even get Cable here either. Its like the dark side of the moon.
David Helm, England.

I would love to get cable modem, if anyone actually provided it in my local area (SHEFFIELD).
Ray Khan, UK

I registered for BT's ADSL in May, promised for July, delayed to August, delayed to September, delayed to October, installed, after 3 days broke for 15 days but since mid-November fantastic speed 24/7! Just a pity some servers can't give me the speed I can handle :-(
Phill Gillespie, Edinburgh, UK

We've had broadband via Telewest in Gloucester since November 2000. It's really very good. I could never go back to a modem!
Steven Radford, UK

You might add to your story that there is currently no solution for those most likely to upgrade to ADSL, ie those presently using ISDN. Apparently the Germans have no difficulty with this, but BT says you have to "downgrade" to an ordinary PSTN line before "upgrading" to ADSL. What a mess.
David Love, UK

I signed up for ADSL March 2000 I have had the system since 9 February 2001 and have no complaints. My average speed for downloading files is between 30k & 70k. I am well satisfied. The overall speed will however depend on the server speed at the other end and the demand.
Paul Steele, Uunited Kingdom

I'm a freelance internet consultant in London. With my job, you might expect that I would be one of the people banging on the doors of BT, but being freelance I have moved every 6-12 months for several years. With the current installation times, getting a fast connection is just not worth the inconvenience. I'm sure that I'm not the only person in the IT industry who thinks is a joke. The Australians and the Americans in my office find it very amusing.
Matt Shelley, UK

I had cable "installed" 2 weeks ago after a 7 month wait and it's still not working. Despite having to telephone them every other day for an update, I'm met with "we are looking into it". Funny how they still expect their money though.
Richard Looker, UK

There has been an enormous delay with Telewest's Blueyonder service. I was told in July last year that it would be available in Wimbledon from August 2000 - it still isn't available now and they can only tell me that the cable in my area needs to be upgraded and that will happen sometime in the next 18 months. Despite that the website tells me it's available now. Even with the delays, I'm sure BT can do better than that.
Lee, UK

A lot of this article rings true. I've had BT Openworld since November and it's impressive. Having said that, it's not always possible to log on to the network first time and they've had server problems since then, but all in all I'm happy with it. What really helps is having good people at their helpdesk. So far, they've been very helpful and knowledgeable. On top of this, Openworld will cut my annual internet charges by about 80%, which isn't to be sniffed at.

As for those still waiting for ADSL - stick with it. It's true - you won't want to go back.
Mark Woolley, England

As an ex-pat. Brit now living in Belgium, I watch with interest the glacier like introduction of broadband to the eagerly waiting British public. I've had cable modem access for nearly 18 months here in Belgium. The price is equivalent to UKP 23.80 per month. This is inclusive of taxes and is the only monthly cost.
Tim Hodgetts, Belgium

Why does nobody ever look at the economics from BT's side. If everybody has 24/7 for 20 pounds a month BT's income would barely cover the depreciation in assets. Where's their profit? If people want fast access, and even faster is possible, then let BT offer video over copper and sell programme content. Where there's profit there will be a service.
Martin Burgess, UK

Martin Burgess asks "Why does nobody ever look at the economics from BT's side?" There is still profit, lots of profit, to be made in providing unmetered broadband connections. Just not quite as much profit as they currently enjoy from metered dial-up.

Or perhaps you think the telcos in the USA serving 12 million broadband customers are doing so out of charity?
Reuben Harris, UK

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

05 May 00 | Entertainment
Cleese makes internet history
19 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
High speed go slow
08 Feb 01 | Business
BT's broadband 'disgrace'
07 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Hull looks to digital future
31 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Which broadband technology will win?
28 Jun 00 | Americas
DSL speeds the internet
28 Aug 00 | Business
Understanding broadband
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more dot life stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more dot life stories