Alexander warned over broadband complacency

AOL is one ISP that is less than impressed with comments made by the new e-commerce minister
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

AOL has warned the new e-commerce minister that Britain is still facing big problems in the rollout of broadband Internet services.

Responding to comments made last week by Douglas Alexander, the ISP said this country still has some big obstacles to overcome before it can truly be called "Broadband Britain".

Douglas Alexander's comments were made in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, in which he said he disagreed with the suggestion that BT had been "dragging its feet" over the issue of broadband rollout and local loop unbundling. Alexander said it was wrong to expect any new market to be problem-free. Alexander gave the impression of being happy with the efforts of Oftel and BT, whom he said were on course to bring ADSL within reach of 60 percent of the population by September.

But Matt Peacock, AOL chief communications officer, said that Alexander cannot afford to be complacent. "It's important not to underestimate the scale of the significant problems faced by BT in rolling out ADSL," he said.

According to Peacock, the whole UK Internet industry is concerned that broadband rollout could descent into chaos. "BT is very frank about the problems its back-office operations are having trying to process customer requests for ADSL," he claimed, adding "the short term difficulties are enormous".

In the past BT has been accused of hindering the rollout of high-speed Internet services. Telco Energis claimed last year that BT was deliberately denying its rivals a level playing-field for competing on fast DSL services.

AOL was pleased to see that the government had appointed a new e-commerce minister to replace Patricia Hewitt, who is now trade and industry secretary. Describing Alexander as sounding "fairly well-informed and well-briefed", Peacock was keen to emphasise the significance of Britain having a minister devoted to e-commerce.

"Few countries have someone responsible for this industry within government. The UK is leading Europe in terms of creating an e-economy, and we're pleased to see that the position of e-commerce minister will continue to exist," said Peacock.

BT announced today that it is to make ADSL available to a further two million people in the UK, thanks to a technology called "rate adaption". Currently it is only possible to for a home to get an ADSL connection if it is within 3.5 kilometres of an ADSL exchange. Rate adaption will mean that broadband customers could be based up to 5.5km away from an exchange.

A pilot scheme for rate adaptive DSL (RADSL) was launched today, and the service is expected to be available nationally by 18 July.

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