E-Envoy sees Chancellor as broadband obstacle

Gordon Brown is accused of being unimpressed by the benefits of broadband, and of being unconcerned at the low adoption rate by business

A split may have broken out within government circles after e-Envoy Andrew Pinder told business leaders on Monday that Chancellor Gordon Brown was unconvinced of the benefits of broadband.

Attending the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Pinder said that Brown was unconvinced of the benefits of broadband, given its disappointing take-up to date. He urged firms to sign up for high-speed Internet services to prove that it would improve their productivity and give access to new business opportunities.

Pinder's comments suggest that the government is considering investing more money in broadband, in an attempt to boost take-up and achieve its targets, but that the Treasury is unwilling to release the cash. It was rumoured earlier this year that the Department of Trade and Industry had unsuccessfully applied for £1bn to spend on broadband infrastructure -- a story denied by e-Minister Patricia Hewitt.

"We need you and your supply companies to get online and use broadband. If we don't seize this moment we run a great risk of letting other people get ahead of us," Pinder said at the CBI breakfast meeting.

According to reports, Pinder told those present that Brown was unimpressed by the fact that "hardly any" firms are using broadband in areas where it is available. These comments appeared in several newspapers on Tuesday, where they were taken as evidence that Pinder sees Brown as an obstacle to broadband success.

Research shows that the take-up of high-speed Internet access in the UK is poor compared to rival countries such as Sweden and Denmark. One excuse given for this is the popularity of narrowband unmetered Internet packages in Britain.

The Government is committed to making the UK the "most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 by 2005." Recent research indicates that this target is extremely unlikely to be met, although government spokesman refuse to admit this, describing it only as a "challenging" target.

Having achieved its aim of making over 1,000 local exchanges ADSL-enabled, BT is now concentrating on advertising the benefits of broadband to those lucky enough to be able to subscribe to it.

A BT spokeswoman told ZDNet UK on Monday that BT hadn't permanently stopped its rollout of ADSL. Apparently the company is hoping to take ADSL to rural areas if it can agree joint funding with bodies such as Regional Development Agencies.

Labour MP Derek Wyatt wrote recently that the UK government had to provide the money to build a nationwide broadband grid, possibly using some of the £22.5bn it raised from the third-generation mobile phone licence auction. "We need to use the 3G licence fee money, or agree a PFI (public finance initiative) or some kind of joint funding," Wyatt urged.

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