Broadband blunders hit UK online

The UK online second annual report reveals that broadband rollout is the biggest obstacle to driving Internet take-up in Britain

Britain has the highest level of Internet penetration in Europe, but still has a long way to go in making broadband available to the nation, the trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt has admitted.

The UK online second annual report was published on Tuesday morning, a little more than a year after the campaign to close the "digital divide" was launched by the prime minister in September 2000. The report reveals that in the last 12 months, 38 percent of UK households have connected to the Internet, with 51 percent of adults accessing the Internet from home, work or a public access point.

But plans to boost Internet take-up in Britain are hindered by the sluggish rollout of high speed broadband connections across the country. In February 2001, the government set itself the new target of having the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005. The UK online report issued by the Office of the e-Envoy claims that 60-65 percent of the UK population is now covered by an affordable broadband technology. But in September 2001, only 180,000 broadband cable lines had been rented, accounting for less than 1 percent of UK households.

Hewitt signed the annual report with the e-Envoy Andrew Pinder, saying she was delighted with the progress that the government has made driving people and businesses online. "But there is more to be done -- particularly to make broadband more available across the country," she admitted.

The UK online campaign intends to make the UK a centre for global e-commerce. The drive also promises to provide Internet access to all who want it by 2005, and to get all government services online by the same time. The annual report states that to date, 50,000 people have contacted the government through the UK online initiative, and have taken their first steps to getting online.

In September 2000, the prime minister, Tony Blair, announced plans for 6,000 centres designed to provide Internet access to poorer sections of the community. One third of these UK online centres are now open for business, offering free or low-cost access to the Internet and training for those less familiar with computers. The remaining 4,000 online centres are due to be operating by the end of 2002.

The government target to have one and a half million small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) online by 2002 has already been smashed. Today there are 1.9 million SMEs online, and 64 percent of UK businesses have an Internet connection faster than a telephone modem. The number of sales conducted over the Internet have also reached £57bn in the last 12 months.

The full UK online report is available online here.

For everything Internet-related, from the latest legal and policy-related news, to domain name updates, see ZDNet UK's Internet News Section.

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