Bandwidth talk turns off broadband late adopters

Broadband providers must explain the wide benefits of a high-speed Internet connection rather than just focusing on technical issues, if take-up is not to falter

The UK's telecoms industry must concentrate on promoting the value of broadband if the vision of Broadband Britain is to be achieved, according to a senior member of the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG).

Antony Walker, chief executive of the BSG, told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that it is important for broadband providers to explain the wide benefits of a high-speed Internet connection, rather than just focusing on technical issues such as always-on connectivity and bandwidth.

Otherwise, Walker fears, broadband take-up could falter.

"If we are to attract more users we need to target the non-early adopters," said Walker, warning that while most of the UK's existing 1.1 million broadband users migrated from narrowband because broadband is faster and always on, different selling points are needed for mass-market uptake.

Walker explained that recent research into the use of broadband has found that speed is not seen as the most important aspect.

"They experienced less frustration when surfing, and were more relaxed. As a result, they spent more time online and achieved more, and their Internet experience became deeper. Some advertising campaigns have focused on broadband being fast and exciting, but perhaps the new message should be 'relax with broadband'," suggested Walker.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group published its second annual report into the UK's broadband market this week. In its report, the BSG acknowledges the progress made in the last year, but says that there is still much to be done in terms of both take-up and coverage.

In the report, BSG chairman Keith Todd says: "In the long term, broadband will herald a transformation in how we live, play, work, educate and build and maintain communities."

The BSG makes several recommendations for 2003. As Walker explained, making broadband a "must have" service is a priority if the currently take-up rates are to be sustained.

To address the coverage issue, the BSG wants regional authorities to coordinate the rollout of broadband infrastructure by harnessing together public sector demand, private sector investment and regional funding.

It is also proposing that new telecommunications infrastructure could be built by an independent company, rather than telecoms operators, as a way of reducing costs.

This, the BSG believes, could make it economically viable for operators to offer broadband in more rural areas, and could also stimulate the rollout of new, faster, technologies.

"Up to 70 percent of the cost of rolling out broadband is the civil infrastructure -- such as digging trenches, building ducts and poles. If a third party built this infrastructure, and allowed operators to share it, it could significantly reduce the costs of rollout," Walker explained.

Walker believes that such a third-party company would be able to borrow money to fund such infrastructure on the basis of providing real estate, not as a telecoms operator, meaning they could be allowed much longer to achieve a return on their investment.

Some in the industry have suggested that this plan, if implemented, could result in the creation of a next-generation local loop that would duplicate some of the functionality of BT's existing network of local exchanges.

Walker played down this suggestion and insisted that this was a medium to long-term idea, but he also suggested that BT could gain from it. "BT hasn't opposed the idea, and that could be because they can see benefits for themselves. They need a way of getting fibre to the kerb if they want to offer next-generation broadband services that are faster than ADSL," pointed out Walker.

VDSL -- a broadband technology that promises much faster speeds than ADSL -- requires fibre-optic cables to be laid from BT's street-side cabinets to the local exchange.

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