E-Commerce minister fleshes out rural broadband plans

Local government broadband efforts will be coordinated in an attempt to reignite the stalled ADSL rollout in rural areas

Douglas Alexander, the e-Commerce minister, will say on Tuesday evening that the government is looking to merge public sector telecommunications spending in an attempt to boost the availability of high-speed Internet services in rural areas.

Alexander hopes the plan will help create the broadband demand that the UK's incumbant telco says it needs before it will upgrade rural exchanges to ADSL.

ZDNet UK reported yesterday that the e-Envoy's office was considering combining local government spending as a way of boosting broadband take-up across the country. At the Analysys Conference in Cambridge, Alexander will reveal details of this latest attempt to prevent the UK dropping behind other countries in the high-speed Internet race.

Alexander will tonight say that "The public sector is the largest single consumer of broadband services at the moment, and we need to use that purchasing power to leverage growth in the market more effectively." He will also acknowledge that in the present economic climate telecoms companies are reluctant to spend money on broadband installation in sparsely populated rural areas. Guaranteeing to spend money on broadband services for a minimum number of years could help.

This is likely to find favour with BT, which is understood to resent being repeatedly blamed for the slow take-up of broadband services. BT's departing chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield said recently that it simply wouldn't be economically viable to install ADSL in rural areas where the number of potential customers was low.

Prime Minister Tony Blair announced yesterday that officials are looking at ways that government departments could buy broadband services more effectively. Alexander is set to confirm that this idea is taking a high priority.

Alexander, who became e-Commerce minister after the June 2001 general election, is faced with research showing the UK performing poorly against fellow European countries. The government's aim to make Britain the "most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005" also seems unlikely to be met.

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