Britain will 'lead the world' in broadband

Latest figures for the availability of high-speed services show that the UK is no longer the sick man of the broadband world

The UK will become a world leader in the rollout of high-speed Internet services, according to a report issued on Tuesday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

After years of lagging behind other countries in terms of both availability and take-up, Britain now looks like a trailblazer, at least in terms of coverage.

According to the OECD's report, DSL will be available on 95 percent of UK telephone lines by the end of this year. No other major industrialised nation is expected to boast such high availability. This percentage is only expected to be matched by Finland, and bettered by Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland.

The OECD's figures are largely based on projections for the rollout of BT's ADSL network, which is nearing 90 percent availability at present.

BT expects to reach 99 percent coverage by the end of 2005, and the OECD's report claims that no other country will equal this.

The OECD's findings could cause glasses to be raised in Westminster. The government has set itself the goal of making Britain the most "extensive and competitive" broadband market of all the countries in the G7 by 2005.

A few years ago, it seemed very unlikely that the UK would reach this target. In 2000, DSL was available over just 50 percent of lines, compared to 60 percent for Germany and 69 percent for Canada -- both fellow members of the G7.

Last year, the UK rose to third place for competitiveness, but languished in fifth place 'extensiveness', which is calculated on the basis of coverage and competition from rival services like unmetered narrowband services.

The OECD's figures suggest that the government's goal might yet be achieved.

BT was quick to crow over OECD's findings, which chief broadband officer Alison Ritchie said was "great news for UK plc as well as for BT, other broadband companies, government and local partnership initiatives, and customers."

"The challenge now is to drive the take-up of broadband. The UK is already a world leader in narrowband internet but the time has come for it to move up the league table for broadband as well. The growth in adoption rates is very encouraging but there is plenty more to be done" said Ritchie.