The UK government must show more vision in its broadband strategy and provide more investment if Britain is to match the achievements of South Korea.
This is one of the key conclusions of an investigation into the success of broadband in South Korea, which was led by Brunel University and funded by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
South Korea has the most advanced broadband market in the world, and 9.2 million -- over 60 percent -- of its households now have broadband. According to this investigation, which took place in July this year, the South Korean Government can claim a lot of the credit for this achievement.
In 1995, South Korea pledged to transform itself into a leading knowledge-based economy. The rollout of high-speed Internet services was a major part of this strategy.
The Brunel University/DTI report explains that the South Korean government provided vital financial support to make broadband rollout happen.
"The South Korean government had the vision to drive towards a knowledge-based economy, and it recognised there were two clear barriers it had to overcome -- making sure there was sufficient investment, and motivating the incumbent telco," explained Antony Walker, a senior executive at high-tech industry group Intellect, and a member of the Broadband Stakeholders Group.
As well as deregulating the telecoms sector, the South Korean government provided some £1bn of funding for a new high-capacity backbone network, which meant that telecoms firms did not have to use the infrastructure of the incumbent, Korea Telecom.
The South Korean Government is also providing "soft loans" -- loans at preferentially low interest rates -- to companies who are building new infrastructure, something the UK government has failed to do. In both 1999 and 2000, £50m worth of soft loans was made available to operators to deploy new local networks.
This funding was then extended to address the problem of lack of broadband in rural areas -- and the South Korean government has committed to provide soft loans totalling some £600m for broadband providers to solve this Broadband Divide.
In contrast, the British Government has committed just £30m to fund broadband schemes in remote areas, preferring to leave broadband rollout to the private sector. This is despite the fact that one third of the British population cannot currently get affordable broadband, compared to just 10 percent in South Korea.
After a very rocky time, broadband take-up in Britain is finally picking up and the one-millionth broadband user was connected this week. According to Professor Ray J Paul, dean of the faculty of technology and information systems at Brunel University, it isn't too late for the UK government to learn from South Korea.
"By determining a clear policy and applying an appropriate amount of public money to leverage the joint activities undertaken with the commercial sector, the UK government's target of being at the forefront of broadband could be achieved, and quite quickly as South Korea has shown," said Professor Paul.
As well as the government's role, the Brunel University/DTI mission identified several other factors behind South Korea's broadband success, including the popularity of gaming with consumers and the fact that many people live in large apartment complexes that are easy to broadband-enable.
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