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dot life Monday, 2 July, 2001, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Whatever happened to broadband?
Broadband internet links are taking a long time to materialise, writes BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward.

You cannot miss what you do not have, or so the saying goes.

But British net users appear not to heed this adage, to judge from the complaints posted on web discussion groups about the slow pace of broadband access in the UK.

Frustrated computer user
Frustrations mount: Net users wait in vain
The frustration of those who do not have a high speed connection but want one is evident. And the anger of those who sign up to no avail is obvious.

The majority of those with broadband connections are no happier. Some lost access after just a few hours. Others rail against the patchiness of the service.

Websites named Openwoe and NT Hellworld provide an outlet for those frustrated about the sometimes poor service of BT Openworld and NTL World.

But the bad news is that it doesn't look like it is going to get significantly better any time soon.

Hurry up and wait

This is because those wanting an Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) service have to get it from a BT division called Ignite. Even BT's own ADSL service, Openworld, repackages this service.

ADSL upgrades your phone line into a high speed net link that can drag data off the web 10 times faster than an ordinary modem.

Caving under
Broadband start-up On Cue Communications, BT's most direct rival, collapsed last week
A number of companies have signed up with Ignite to resell ADSL. But with BT acting as engineer for them all, delays are inevitable. Sorting out problems proves difficult because of the thicket of companies involved.

The service isn't cheap either, with the average monthly cost between 40 and 50. Freeserve hiked the cost of its ADSL service in May, and others could soon follow.

BT Openworld boss Andy Green has warned that the company may bump up prices to close a hole in its finances. Openworld currently charges 39.99 a month, yet has failed to secure sufficient advertising or e-commerce revenue to help offset the cost of the service.

On Monday, Peter Radley, chairman of the government's industry advisory group, said a country the size of the UK could only support a small number of broadband operators.

He recommended that monopoly or duopoly operators such as BT be charged with providing the service.

Kitted up

The process of unbundling - allowing BT's rivals to install their own ADSL kit in local exchanges across the UK - was meant to have been completed yesterday.

Waiting, waiting...
But this, too, has been delayed because of difficulties in working out how much it will cost to rent space in the exchanges.

Originally, more than 40 companies put in bids for access - now all but nine have dropped out. Those remaining have banded together to bring their combined bargaining power to bear on BT and force it to act more quickly.

The number of exchanges they want access to has also dropped, from more than 2,000 locations to just 202.

Shunning broadband

The ADSL delays prove to be a boon to Telewest and NTL, which provide alternative high speed services using cable modems.

Chad Raube, head of marketing for Telewest's residential services, says his company is gaining customers who've grown tired of waiting for ADSL.

Waiting for ADSL to come to you? Join the queue
"Demand is very strong. We have had our best month ever this month [June], and the word is starting to spread."

Cable modem services are popular, he says, because installation times tend to be quicker. Also, they cost less because both companies use their own networks rather than resell access run by a rival.

NTL has also unveiled a new service that lets people use their digital TV set-top box as a high speed internet connection.

Long time coming

Oftel last week tried to kickstart interest in unbundling by forcing BT to cut the cost of connecting to its network, making it cheaper and easier for rivals to rent space and install equipment in the exchanges.

But it will be well into 2002 before these changes have an effect and for consumers see real competition for ADSL services.

Until then, many people will continue to long for what they cannot have.

Weely guide to getting buttoned up

See also:

27 Jun 01 | Business
16 May 01 | Business
03 Apr 01 | Business
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