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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 13:46 GMT
Blair pledges to kick-start broadband
Tony Blair
Tony Blair is keen to promote internet use
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to give every school, university, hospital and doctors' surgery a high-speed link to the internet.

At present many public services connect to the web through a telephone line, but the government wants more access to the broadband connections.

The government is spending more than 1bn on broadband for key public services over the next three years as part of a 6bn investment in information communication technology.

"Britain has the potential to become a technological powerhouse," he said.

He also unveiled a government report showing that the UK was the second best place in the world to do e-business after the US.

The UK has come in for criticism for its slow rollout of broadband and for setting unrealistic targets for both high-speed internet access and getting government services online.

Promoting broadband

In his address, Mr Blair stressed the importance of improving access to high-speed internet connections.

"We're doing well, but not well enough," he admitted. "Access to this technology has to be universal."

Mr Blair outlined a future where pupils would be able to use broadband video streaming in lessons, ambulance crews would be able to access patients' medical records on the spot and GPs could send prescriptions to chemists electronically.

"I consider the question of how we harness the potential of technological change, alongside the related question of science, to be the fundamental economic and social challenge of our future," he said.

"What we do with information technology and how we use it will determine our success industrially and as a society for years to come."

Boosting broadband

His comments came as the telecoms giant BT pledged to increase the availability of broadband to as many as 90% of the population.

Broadband provides high-speed net access
Ambitious plans for wiring up the nation
Speaking at the e-summit, BT board director Pierre Danon announced a series of new services and products to drive the take-up of high-speed internet services.

BT will introduce a new broadband hybrid service, dubbed midband, offering speeds of up to 128K and available to 97% of the population.

The service will be available on existing telephone lines but it will not offer the always-on advantage of true broadband. It is due to be piloted in March.

No price has yet be decided but it will be slightly cheaper than current broadband services, said Mr Danon.

BT will also continue its successful pre-registration scheme, where people register their interest in demand for broadband and the local exchange is ADSL-enabled when enough names are collated.

Some 200,000 registrations have already been received and Mr Danon said that BT would enable exchanges at a rate of one a day until March 2003.

"We believe that by mid-2005 broadband services could be available to around 90% of households in the country," said Mr Danon.

BT also plans to introduce a range of new services, including an internet radio, home networking equipment that can wire all the PCs in a household to broadband and a broadband-enabled home security device.

Online services

The announcements will please the government which is committed to developing the UK as a knowledge economy.

But Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said there was more to do to stimulate broadband take-up among small and medium-sized businesses.

There was also more to be done to convince citizens to communicate with the government online she said.

Currently only one in 10 people are using e-government services.

The e-Envoy Andrew Pinder was more upbeat about government achievements claiming that the UK "has already achieved universal access" thanks to the 6,000 UK Online centres that have been set up to offer PC access and training.

Ministers aim to make Britain the best place for e-commerce and broadband by 2005 and get all government services online by the same time.

A series of reports have suggested that the UK is slow man of Europe when it comes to broadband.

The latest, by the government-appointed Broadband Stakeholders Group, has found that much work still needs to be done to extend the range of high-speed internet services.

Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking at the e-summit:
"Britain has the potential to become a technological powerhouse"
The BBC's John Moylan
"Broadband in Britain has grown slowly by international standards"

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