UK 'leads G7' for broadband availability

Government minister Mike O'Brien claims Britain leads the way in broadband rollout and e-commerce, but experts have doubts

The UK has overtaken the other G7 nations in terms of the availability of broadband infrastructure, a report claimed on Monday.

According to research from analyst Ovum, the UK became the most "extensive broadband market" in the G7 group in the last part of 2004, leaving Canada, Japan, the US, Germany, France and Italy behind.

“We said we wanted the UK to be the best place in the world for e-business," said Mike O’Brien, energy and e-commerce minister. "With broadband now available to 96 percent of households and more than six million people already subscribing, this is fast becoming a reality."

However, some broadband experts disagree that the UK is leading the way in the availability of high-speed Internet access. Academics at Brunel University's Broadband Research Centre say the technology is likely to actually be available to much fewer homes than the government claimed.

“In some regions they haven't reached BT's trigger level [for broadband], so how can 96 percent be right?" said Dr Jyoti Choudrie, operations director of the Brunel Broadband Research Centre. "We have to be more like the South East Asian region where the citizens are willing to adopt novel technology. But I believe we are not doing that badly in Europe."

According to latest figures from BT, 95 percent of UK homes and businesses are connected to one of its broadband-enabled local exchanges, but technical limitations mean that 0.2 percent of those lines won't support broadband.

Choudrie said that South Korea, which is not included in the G7, was probably still the world leader in broadband availability. The university released information that said 75 percent -- 11.9 million -- of South Korea's homes have broadband - the highest per capita penetration anywhere in the world.

Brian Condon, chief executive of the Access to Broadband Campaign, was sceptical that Ovum's figures accurately reflected the state of broadband in the UK.

"There's more to the story than statistics," said Condon. "That's all very well, but it doesn't tell you what people are doing and how they are using broadband. You need to know the amount of subscribers relative to the total population. The job's not done just because you list a few numbers."

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