Government in cloud cuckoo land over broadband

Its plans are unrealistic and the UK is on the verge of losing its Internet lead, agree analysts

The government is living in "cloud cuckoo land" if it thinks it can achieve its broadband targets, says an analyst with research firm Jupiter MMXI on Tuesday.

The frank criticism follows a Jupiter survey which claims rollout of broadband services across Europe will be far slower than some had hoped, with only 14 percent of households -- 10 million people -- connected to broadband on the continent by 2005.

It will do nothing to bolster government plans to make the UK the best broadband nation by that time and ensure that all citizens have access to some form of high-speed Internet access.

"They are in cloud cuckoo land," says Jupiter analyst Dan Stevenson. "The government pledges are just not realistic. How are they going to achieve it?"

It is not the first time the government has been criticised for its broadband plans. Two recent select committees have questioned government commitment to broadband, neither holding back in its criticism. The Internet industry has also complained that government plans for broadband have little substance beyond the rhetoric.

According to Stevenson, the lead the UK has in narrowband access across Europe is about to be eroded as users switch to broadband. Germany is already far ahead of the UK in ADSL rollout partly, Stevenson says, because it can offer ADSL over ISDN. BT claims it is not technically possible for it to do the same.

Commentators suggest the only way to realise its broadband goals will be for the government to put some substantial sums of money on the table to invest in infrastructure. Previously the Department of Trade and Industry asked the Treasury for £1bn to invest in this but it was rejected in favour of a £30m broadband fund to help get access to remote areas. Stevenson does not believe the political will exists to pursue a policy of subsidisation.

"I can imagine it in Nordic countries, but not in the UK. The government here hasn't subsidised the Tube network or the trains so why should it do so with broadband?" he asks.

Ovum analyst Tim Johnson believes a competitive and thriving broadband market in the UK could come down to the split in the telco's divisions, due to happen in the autumn. The regulator must ensure that NetCo is split fairly, he says.

Of the government's plans he is as dismissive as Stevenson. "They are ridiculous targets and shows they are ignorant -- over-influenced by the media and a victim of the previous telecoms success," he says. He thinks neither the government nor BT -- which he believes will be charged with delivering broadband Britain -- have fully realised how important high-speed services will be.

"It is really important for Britain as an industrial nation to have a flourishing supply of broadband," he says.

Stevenson can't see anything in the near future that will alter the dire picture facing broadband access in the UK. He thinks it will be down to Oftel to keep the unbundling process rolling and other operators to offer alternative cable or wireless services. The fact that 25 out of original 30 operators have withdrawn from unbundling will not add optimism to the first hope.

However, Stevenson doesn't necessarily agree that the UK's broadband future lies in BT's hands and has a word of warning for the telco.

It may have shot itself in the foot over its slow rollout of ADSL. ADSL may not be the dominant broadband technology in the UK. It may find itself overtaken by cable or wireless LAN."

Is broadband coming to your neighbourhood? Find out with ZDNet UK's Broadband Britain Guide.

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