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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 16:14 GMT
Government reports on the state of the electronic nation
fibre-optic cables
30m is being spent by the government on broadband networks
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Broadband net connections could reach barely 50% of the population in some parts of Britain, predicts a government report.

The in-depth look at the current and future state of broadband Britain says up to a fifth of people living in the UK could have no fast net access by 2003.

The report promises 30m of government money to help wire up remote areas with faster networks.

But it backs away from recommending that the government spends up to 1bn making exchanges ready for high-speed net connections.

Broadband Britain

A government report released this week paints a discouraging picture of the future of broadband net connections in Britain.

It reveals that some areas of the country will be badly served by broadband connections. It estimates that in the South West and Wales up to 45% of people will be unable to sign up for a fast web link. In all, 20% of the population could go unserved by these links.

There will also be wide variation in the types of broadband technology available in different regions of the UK. It suggests that by 2003 about 50% of the population will be able to choose between modems that use cable TV networks or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) technology, a further 25% will only be able to sign up for ADSL and a final 10% will have to rely on broadband radio links to go online at high speed.

By 2005 barely 30% of households will be surfing the net via a high speed link, said the report.

Action plan

To drive the development of broadband net links in Britain the government is proposing to spend 30m to co-ordinate action to set up regional networks.

It is also planning to show what can be done with broadband links by ensuring that at least 3,800 of the government-run UK Online Centres are equipped with links that run at speeds of 2 megabits per second.

The report also mentions that the Radiocommunications Agency is planning to auction off licences that went unsold during the auction of radio spectrum last year. The auction was intended to give consumers more choice by giving companies the right to link them to the net using high-bandwidth radio links.

In the event, licences covering some areas of country received no bids. These are now likely to be sold off at their reserve prices.

But the report says the government has dropped a suggestion that it should spend an estimated 1bn of public money ensuring that BT exchanges are ready for ADSL. The plan was dropped because of fears that the government would not get value for money and that the move might reinforce BT's advantage.

The report is part of the broader UK Online initiative launched in September 2000 that aims to give everyone who wants it access to the net by 2005 and to ensure all government services are available electronically by the same date.

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