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banner Monday, 19 November, 2001, 15:11 GMT
Is broadband working?
House by house, the dream of UK homes with broadband internet connections is becoming a reality. Here BBC News Online's Giles Wilson reports on how it reached him. Add your own tales too.

In the end, even though I had been keenly anticipating "broadband Britain", it came and found me by surprise.

Its coming was not a moment too soon. For years going online from home had been an all too familiar struggle. Slow connections, painful pages loading gif by gif, maddening...

..."website found, awaiting reply"...

...messages.

They are frustrations shared by millions. And the allure of a bright future where speed would rule made it only more exasperating.

Broadband Britain?
10 million UK homes online
100,000 use ADSL
90,000 use cable
Source: Oftel Nov 2001
Too often the promises seemed like a false dawn. Either there were months of waiting lists, or the cost of the service would require an unusual dedication to going online to justify it.

Promise and reality

So I wasn't quite sure how to react to a phone call out of the blue from NTL to offer me 512kbps access through my digital TV set-top box. Always-on, high-speed access for 25 a month. Somehow the reality couldn't live up to the promise. These things never do.

But it was then things started going right. First off came the surprise that, as an owner of an iMac, I would have no need to install anything in the way of ethernet PCI network cards into the bowels of my computer.

Cost of broadband at home
UK - around 40/month
France - 37/month
Germany 31
US - 32
Source: Oftel
All I needed to do was plug one end of a cable, which NTL had posted to me, into the back of my set-top box, and the other end into my computer.

People have all sorts of relationships with their computer, Mac owners perhaps particularly so. But I found it strangely touching to find that my two-year old lime green computer had actually been waiting all this time for me to upgrade.

There was a sheet of instructions for registering for the NTL service. It was fairly cumbersome, but as with all these things, if they go smoothly then you forget all about having done them. And although NTL is often berated in newspaper columns and newsgroups about poor service, everything so far has gone fine for me.

So how has it been

The Holy Grail is of an internet connection that screams, where pages load as soon as you have clicked on them. I would be lying if I said my 512k gave me that; but the experience is far, far more satisfying one than with a 56k modem.

Broadband aims
UK Government wants to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005
For instance, on day two I decided I wanted a new Real Player - the whole thing (6Mb) was downloaded in just over two minutes. Before the cable I probably just wouldn't have bothered.

The most interesting impact has not been due to the speed, though. It's that you don't have to dial in, and that whenever the computer is turned on, it's online.

This simple fact completely changes the way you think about the internet. No more do I approach going online as if it were Supermarket Sweep, trying to do as much as I can in as short a time as possible, always with one eye on the clock.

No more do I have to think about there being some things you do online and some things you do offline. Of course there are new things to worry about, such as installing personal firewalls and the number of pop-up windows you seem to encounter, but that aside, the internet was surely supposed to be like this.

Challenge

A report two weeks ago showed the first fall in the time spent online in UK households.

Rolex watch
Time is money, but clockwatching can become a thing of the past
The surest way of addressing that, from the recent experience of me and my Mac, is for the broadband revolution to get up some steam. I have never spent as much time online as I have since I got the cable - hours of spare time that I never knew I had.

But to get millions of people into broadband, the suppliers of ADSL and cable access will have to make sure they appeal to those people who, like me, are not particularly early adopters, not hardcore net types, and do not work from home.

25 a month is about the most I could justify spending - and even then I had to indulge in some creative accounting to persuade myself that it was worth it. If I had been 15, I would have probably tried to justify it by saying it would "really, really help me with my school work".

Maybe this is an unusual tale of good fortune. But if you have an experience with broadband access at home, use the form below to tell us all about it.

Your comments:

I just had broadband installed here in Warsaw, brilliant! 1Mb download speed, low charges (about 13 a month), excellent service of a named engineer - marvellous! So Britain wants to have highest broadband penetration of G7 countries? Dream on Tony - unless the UK providers get their acts together and start to really understand marketing and pricing, there's little hope!
Howard Blackwell, Warsaw, Poland

Could have Broadband in a little village outside Stockport. But at 25 a month?! You must be joking! I'll wait until it is part of the normal phone line cost. It can't be long before then.
Andy, Manchester

I joined the HomeChoice ADSL service just under a year ago and they have been great to date. HC are essentially a Video on Demand company but offer a very competitive 115k ADSL Internet Service for 20 a month which suits my needs at the moment. They did have some problems late last year but have resolved those judging by the interaction with other users in the newsgroups.
Robert Lines, England

Once my Telewest Blueyonder connection was up and running, I felt that I had re-discovered the internet. Everyting is held back with dial-up, not least the design of more interactive web sites. Things can only get better for those still with dial-up only. If you haven't got it, do not give up, it is worth the wait.
Paul Williams, England

Cable modems are fine while they are working but just wait until you encounter a problem with your connection and have to contact the NTL support infrastructure. After 3 months of an abortive cable modem install and the nightmare that constitutes customer support, I went back to BT. I suggest you check out www.nthellworld.com
Steve Rowland, UK

Having had NTL Cable Modem almost since it came out, I have one comment "Don't wait, get it now!" This is what the internet should be like, being able to turn on your PC and access anything without dialling is a very liberating, if slightly odd, feeling. I have had very few problems with the service, although if you did I would not expect NTL to be able to solve it!
Mat Robinson, UK

There's a downside to being "always online." Hackers! You are at their mercy unless you have regularly updated, good anti-virus software and a firewall installed. The software is a small price to pay compared to the loss of your data, should viruses and trojans proliferate your system causing untold meyhem courtesy of these malicious people who do it simply because they can!
Dave Peers, UK

"Once your house is ADSL'd it makes sense to leave it as such to encourage the new occupant to use it. George Forth, UK"
Dream on - BT doesn't treat ADSL like that - I was charged the whole 150 installation fee despite the fact the previous tenant had ADSL installed and working. It's a non-transferrable service.
Samantha, UK

I dream of broadband which is the only real way to get the most out of the internet - ie games! However the council of the village I live in refused to let the roads be dug up so no cable TV or internet.
Mark, UK

I had ADSL for a year and will not bother again. It was great to have a permanent connection and reasonable download speeds, but BT are so inflexible with their contracts that as soon as you want to move it's a nightmare. One year minumum is no good to people renting houses on six month contracts.
Tom Kermode, London.

I have Telewest's Blueyonder cable modem service. The service has been poor recently, but Telewest are installing new hardware at a rate of knots and the speeds are back up to their former, brilliant, level. I have three PCs connected to the modem (cost - around 50 extra), one for my partner and I, and one each for the children. And, yes, it really does seem to be helping them with their schoolwork!
Kevin Naughton, UK

Having lived in Japan where they`ve had 1.5MegaBit connections for quite some time, with 100MBPS being rolled in the next few months, Britain's broadband connection, even when you do get it, is not particularly fast. UK has an awful long way to go..
Alistair McNally, UK

Cable company Telewest have been promising broadband in our area since what seems like the dawn of time! I would install it this minute, if I could, because their 56k connection, although free, leaves a lot to be desired.
Paul Buck, UK

About 8 years ago I was helping an ADSL equipment company prepare its chips for manufacture. I am still waiting for an ADSL service (or cable) where I live in a large town in N. Wiltshire. I can't even get an estimate on when it might be available - 3 months? 8 more years? - who knows?
Neil Whiting, UK

512kbps is not really broadband. In Sweden we get 100Mbps (that's 200 times faster). The installation is usually free and it's around 15 - 20 a month.
Johan, Sweden

The big issue for the future is that cable companies need to be more open about the exact limits of service they offer - when I called NTL to enquire as to the MINIMUM guaranteed connection speed, they were happy to say "you'll get up to 512kbps" - that "up to" is one of the greatest advertising gimmicks ever, making you assume you'll always get the top level. And it didn't answer my question - in the end, they admitted they didn't know! I know Telewest guarantee at least 128kbps, and this is the more important figure. Without clearer guarantees of the exact service we will get people will not move to broadband.
Skip Bruce, Scotland

My main gripes are that NTL won't let you have it unless you get TV as well (which I don't want), and BT has a 12-month minimum contract which is lunacy, because once your house is ADSL'd it makes sense to leave it as such to encourage the new occupant to use it.
George Forth, UK

I have been using NTL for a few months now and I could never go back. I am looking to move home in the near future, and I will not be buying a house that can't get it. It's as simple as that. House prices could begin to suffer in the long run as people like myself get more and more used to having it. To go back to a 56k modem would feel the same as getting my old BBC Micro computer out of the loft, blowing off the cobwebs and throwing my PC away !
Mark Bingley, England

Broadband or ADSL is fine only for fairly heavy internet users. For most of the population who use the internet to send the odd e-mails and check a few familiar sites, an ordinary 56k dialup connection is more than sufficient. I recently cancelled my Freeserve Hometime account and went for a pay as you go service as I do not use it enough to justify the 9 per month charge. So ADSL or broadband is out of the question unless the prices come down like mobile phones.
Suman Das, UK

Had my ADSL line for a few months now. Will never go back to dial-up now! No problems so far, smooth sailing!
Dave Jones, London, UK

NTL broadband works well, but you have to buy the NTL telephone deal at the same time. The big problem is that (at least in Oxfordshire) the customer support provided by NTL is shockingly poor: it can take an hour or more for NTL customer support to pick up the phone, and when they do their internal systems mean that they have no knowledge of any previous communications. Luckily, I've not needed to use this support since the beginning of the year.
Michael Abbott, UK

Here in Wales it seems broadband is a holy grail - BT seem very reticent to expand it out of the Newport-Cardiff-Swansea triumvirate. It needs wide coverage to lever acceptance - then people will start writing, and using, content to use the extra bandwidth. It's going to be a long wait in the Valley communities for it.
Adam Rykala, Wales

Broadband is fine for those that have the option, but if you live in a "Non-cable ready" area (as I do), the option is ADSL. The problem with ADSL is the high cost; over 100 for installation and more than 30 per month for the service. When BT and others reduce the high start up costs and bring all the monthly charges down for ADSL people will be more ready to use the internet.
Liam Godden, England

When first installed I was very pleased with the broadband connection I had been supplied with by Telewest. However, I have noticed a slow down in loading speed, with some pages not loading at all. I've mailed for some e-support which seems to be lacking. It's not just my PC / connection, as other people I know are also having difficulties in loading pages. Its not all whistles and bells. If I wanted slow loading I would have saved myself 15 per month and kept my faithful 56k modem connection.
Mick Long, UK

I would love to have broadband services but I live in a village 6km north of Banbury where we don't even have gas, let alone cable TV or ADSL!
Richard George, England

I got BT's ADSL 8 months ago, and could never go back to dialup, yeuck. I think broadband will split Britain into haves/have-nots, and if you leave in an area with no broadband, then it will be like living in a place with no roads or trains. This will surely have huge socio-economic impacts, creating blighted areas and so on. It will certainly influence my next decision on where to buy a house!
Simon Maufe, UK

NTL broadband internet is great ....IF you can get it. I live in London and you would think that this would be a big market for them. I have now been waiting for it for a year. They keep on promising that it will be available next month, etc. The latest I heard is that now they have no date at all, due to "some minor teething problems". I couldn't call it minor teething problems if it has caused more than one year delay in launching the service in London (and other parts of the country). However, this has not stopped the company advertising the service everywhere you go in London. Maybe they should use their marketing budget to fix the problems they are having instead.
Susana Garrido, UK

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See also:

31 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Which broadband technology will win?
28 Aug 00 | Business
Understanding broadband
25 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Hacking risk for broadband internet
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