Page last updated at 01:24 GMT, Wednesday, 3 June 2009 02:24 UK

Britons say broadband 'essential'

By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News

Mouse and keyboard, Eyewire
Many now see broadband access as a basic right

UK consumers now believe broadband is becoming as essential a utility as electricity or water, according to a panel of government advisers.

Some 73% of those questioned described a high-speed connection as important.

The Communications Consumer Panel's research involved 16 focus groups and a face-to-face survey with 2,000 people across the UK.

Its findings will be submitted to Lord Carter's Digital Britain review, due to be published on 16 June.

Missing out

It is expected that the report will include a government commitment to provide universal broadband at a speed of 2Mbps (megabits per second) by 2012.

The chair of the Communications Consumer Panel Anna Bradley said: "The key message is that people think broadband is at a tipping point.

"It's fantastically useful for everyone, essential for some now, but will be essential for everyone in the near future.

"It is being compared by consumers to gas and electricity - things which they think we all ought to have access to, almost as a right."

Those questioned in the survey said people who did not have broadband would be at a disadvantage, missing out on services such as shopping, banking and public services as they were increasingly being delivered online.

The report showed that people currently value broadband for accessing information and for communicating, but a growing proportion are now using it for entertainment services, such as streaming TV content.

Government subsidy

The Consumer Panel, which advises the regulator Ofcom, said its research shows there is strong public support for universal broadband, which would need to be at a speed that allowed everyone to participate fully in society.

"While 2Mbps looks like it may be enough today it won't be tomorrow," said Ms Bradley.

But she said consumers are more concerned about exactly what they can do with broadband than its speed.

"They want to know that they're going to be able to download [BBC] iPlayer, if that's what they're up to, that they're going to be able to use Skype if that's what they want.

"It's the services that matter to consumers. The government and companies need to tell us what it is going to allow us to do, not what speed it is at."

Those questioned in the research had mixed views on whether the government should subsidise broadband.

Some felt that most people could now afford broadband, even if it meant doing without something else, but others felt the government should help those on low incomes to get online.

But there was broad support for government help for people in so-called "notspots", where access to broadband is difficult or impossible.

Last week, a survey for the BBC found that as many as three million homes in the UK might need help to get online at a speed of 2Mbps.



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