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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 May, 2003, 07:44 GMT 08:44 UK
UK broadband hits two million
Computer cable
The spread of broadband has been helped by lower prices
The UK has totted up two million broadband connections, according to the telecoms watchdog Oftel.

The success will be seen as a sign that the UK is catching up with its European neighbours in the race to be the best place for fast net services.

With new connections running at 35,000 a week, telecoms regulator Oftel is confident the UK can reach the top of the broadband league table.

"It took two years to reach one million connections but only seven months to reach two million, as increased competition and lower prices have boosted connection rates," said David Edmonds, Director General of Telecommunications.

Critics are sceptical about the figures because Oftel has included thousands of people who use a 128kbps service from NTL whereas most, even the regulator itself, regard true broadband as being services over 500kbps.

Digital divide

It offers new ways of boosting education and skills, as well as giving rural communities better access to government services
Alun Michael, Rural Affairs Minister

The figures, based on information from network operators, will come as a relief to the government. It has committed itself to make the UK the best place for broadband in the G7 group of countries by 2005.

"We now have the third most competitive broadband market in the G7 and we have today hit two million connections in the UK which goes to show that we are heading, full speed, in the right direction," said e-Commerce Minister Stephen Timms.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the UK has seen a 200% growth in broadband in the last year, due largely to falling prices, fierce marketing campaigns and new ways to install the technology.

Avoiding a digital divide between regions that have access to broadband and the 30% that remain reliant on dial-up connections will be the next big hurdle.

And the need to connect the remoter parts of the UK to the broadband revolution is not lost on the government.

"This technology has huge potential to overcome the barriers of physical distance leading to increased productivity for our rural businesses," acknowledged Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael.

Action not words

The government's role is to get out there and buy it
Jim Norton, Independent Director
"It offers new ways of boosting education and skills, as well as giving rural communities better access to government services," he added.

Critics are increasingly calling on the government to replace its rhetoric about rural broadband with action.

"The government's role is to get out there and buy it rather than regulating the industry to death," said Professor Jim Norton, the former director of the Cabinet Office's e-commerce team.

Speaking at a broadband conference in London, Professor Norton said that the government had vast buying power.

"In rural areas the government is often the biggest customer. If it could buy better then it would create the critical mass needed for operators to invest," he said.

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