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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 May, 2003, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
BT urges action on rural broadband
Girls sitting at a computer in the classroom
Getting broadband into schools is a priority

BT has called on the UK Government to kick-start rural broadband initiatives.

BT's Director for Public Sector Broadband, Patricia Jones, said it was not doing enough to get fast net services to those on the wrong side of the digital divide.

"Frankly government efforts are too slow," she said. "I challenge it to get 20 regional initiatives up and running in the next year."

In a debate in parliament last week, E-commerce Minister Stephen Timms acknowledged that the government needed to do more to improve broadband coverage.

If public sector organisations had broadband, then these connections could also be used by local residents he said.

Broadband chief

But talks with BT have revealed cultural differences about the best way to get broadband to councils and other local groups, said Ms Jones.

It is no secret that compared with a number of other countries the UK has made a slow start with broadband communications
Stephen Timms, E-commerce Minister

"The government has disciplines, that while laudable, take a very long time to execute," she said.

"The pace has to be stepped up if the government is to get the UK to the top of the European league tables," she added.

The government has been criticised by MPs for not doing enough to provide broadband to the third of the UK which still does not have access to the technology.

As part of the drive to promote broadband, the government has named a civil servant at the Department of Trade and Industry as its director of broadband.

Stephen Speed will be responsible for managing official broadband policy, including benchmarking the UK with other nations and ensuring that schools and GP surgeries get the cheapest possible access to broadband.

2006 deadline

Some progress has been made on getting schools and surgeries wired

Broadband in schools may be the be all and end all for Stephen Timms but for Charles Clarke, getting kit in schools is the be all and end all,
DTI spokeswoman

According to the Department of Health, 1,397 of the 8,000 GP surgeries signed up to NHS Net have been upgraded since January and the rest will get broadband by 2004.

Around 40% of schools have broadband connections.

The government is committed to a 2006 deadline for all schools, GP surgeries and courts to be connected to fast net services.

To push it forward at ministerial level, Stephen Timms himself will head up a steering group with representatives from each of the major government departments to make sure that they are all doing their bit to ensure the widest roll out of broadband.

BT says that it has given the government a roadmap for how to get broadband coverage up to 90% of the population.

But the government says it is juggling a lot of different balls.

"Obviously broadband has to be fitted in with other priorities," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Trade and Industry.

"Broadband in schools may be the be all and end all for Stephen Timms but for Charles Clarke, getting kit in schools is the be all and end all," she said.

Increasingly MPs have been taking an interest in fast net access, especially those who live in broadband black spots.

Mr Timms reassured parliament that the UK was finding its broadband feet after a shaky start.

"It is no secret that compared with a number of other countries the UK has made a slow start with broadband communications," he admitted.

But the government is hopeful that this month the UK will pass the two million connections mark, just nine months after the millionth connection was celebrated.




SEE ALSO:
Cable broadband hits one million
01 May 03  |  Technology
Potential net gains for pupils
30 Apr 03  |  Technology
BT backs broadband campaigners
16 Apr 03  |  Technology
Islanders get connected
28 Mar 03  |  Wales
Broadband access leaps ahead
19 Mar 03  |  Technology


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