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UK trails on super-fast broadband say OECD figures

11 December 09 17:39 GMT

The UK is trailing when it comes to next-generation broadband access, new figures show.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UK is placed 21st out of 30 in terms of speed.

That puts it below countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain.

The report suggests that countries that invest in fibre networks are likely to see the best economic returns in other areas.

When it comes to broadband penetration, the UK is doing OK - placed 13th out of the 30 OECD members.

But most of these subscribers still access broadband via so-called DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) rather than via fibre.

Overall, nearly one in 10 OECD subscribers currently accesses the internet over fibre.

In Japan and Korea, most people do; it is also growing fast in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the US.

The report finds that many governments are subsidising the rollout of new broadband networks.

It concludes that such subsidies are justified because of the benefits broadband can make in four key sectors of the economy - electricity, health, education and transportation.

"If you cut 1% off the costs of education, electricity, health and transport you would more than pay for a fibre network," said Taylor Reynolds of the technology division of the OECD.

"That is the type of thinking required by countries considering rolling out next-generation networks," he said.

Broadband tax

With the UK's broadband population standing at nearly 18 million, take-up of the technology is good but there are concerns about how quickly the UK is rolling out super-fast services.

The government wants to see super-fast broadband available to 90% of the country by the end of 2017.

Superfast broadband is generally regarded as speeds of 50Mbps (megabits per second) or above.

Currently BT has plans to offer a mixture of fibre technologies to around 40% of the country and Virgin Media has made cable broadband - capable of speeds of around 50Mbps - available to half of UK homes.

The government has announced a £6 a year tax on fixed-line phones to raise funds for the 30% of the country that it estimates won't get super-fast broadband via existing commercial broadband plans.

It hopes to raise around £170m a year through the levy, although the Conservatives have vowed to scrap the tax if they win the next election.

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