The government gave itself a pat on the back yesterday, claiming that its campaign to bring high speed Internet access to the masses has boosted broadband subscriptions to a record 2.3 million British homes and businesses.
According to UK communications minister Stephen Timms, speaking at the Informal Broadband Council in Italy, broadband access in the UK is growing at its fastest rate ever, with 30,000 new subscribers signing up each week.
Quoting figures compiled by Analysys Consulting for the DTI, the minister added that over three quarters of the population can now receive either cable or DSL access. He vowed that, by 2005, Britain would boast the most extensive and competitive broadband market of any G7 nation. In the G7 the UK is currently ranked third for broadband competitiveness, ahead of US but behind Japan and Canada, and fifth in terms of coverage.
But Timms went on to admit that that touting the figure of 75 per cent of the population being having access to broadband masks the fact that the technology was not available to significant swathes of Britain's rural population.
"However, we are in no position to be complacent, we still need to improve access for those living in more rural locations. That's why we established the Rural Broadband Unit to focus on increasing access in those areas," Timms said.
Timms pointed to funding of £1.8 billion that he said was earmarked for Regional Development Agencies next year to encourage broadband where markets have yet to be established.
Also speaking at the Informal Broadband Council in Italy, Erkki Liikanen, member of the European Commission responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society, outlined Brussels' plans to make broadband as ubiquitous as electricity in remote rural areas.
"Unfortunately, we do not have a competitive marketplace everywhere. In many rural and remote areas, geographical isolation and low density of population can make the upgrade of existing infrastructure to broadband capability unprofitable, at least in the short to medium term. It is in these areas that governments may step in," Liikanen said. ®