Cable companies to put weight behind broadband

Ntl and Telewest will launch a joint campaign to stoke interest in high-speed Net connections

Ntl and Telewest, the UK's two biggest cable operators, are to join forces to promote high-speed Internet access.

On Monday the two companies will unveil a marketing campaign called Building Broadband Britain to drive more consumers to sign up for always-on, high-speed connections to the Net. The campaign will run until September and is designed, the companies say, to educate users about the benefits of a fast connection.

"Most of us in the UK currently have to get the Internet through a very slow telephone line which means we have all become familiar with the World Wide Wait," said Stephen Carter, managing director of ntl, in a statement. "Broadband cable puts an end to all that wasted time, money and effort."

Building Broadband Britain is to begin on 28 July and television, broadsheet and radio advertising. The companies did not put a value on the campaign.

The message from ntl and Telewest may be self-serving, but also addresses fears raised by the e-envoy and Oftel in recent days over broadband's slow growth. After initially strong demand for broadband services, takeup has slowed for cable and telephone line-based broadband.

Cable's main competitor is ADSL, offered over ordinary telephone lines by British Telecommunications and some resellers.

The cable companies offer service more cheaply than BT, at £24.99 a month compared to £40 for ADSL, but only about nine million British homes, or 37 percent of the UK and Ireland, are cable broadband-ready now. The companies promise the figure will rise to 11.6 million, or nearly all homes covered by cable television, by the end of next year.

ADSL also has limits on its range, but telephone lines reach nearly all British homes, compared with cable lines, which pass only about half as many.

Ntl recently extended its broadband service to reach homes passed by what was formerly the Cable & Wireless network. Ntl purchased the network from C&W several months ago.

The government's e-envoy, Andrew Pinder, recently called for lower broadband prices to promote broadband takeup, which he said is vital to Britain's future high-tech competitiveness. Oftel, the telecoms regulator, is to force BT to lower its wholesale ADSL prices in a bid to lower costs to the end user.

Recent studies have ranked Britain near the bottom of the league in broadband usage, compared with the US and other European countries. On Monday the French government unveiled a plan to make broadband connections available across the country within five years.

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