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Broadband campaigners demand more govt leadership

A broadband Britain in which one gigabit per second connections are the norm won't be as easy as ABC but e-commerce minister Stephen Timms has a vital role to play

Broadband activists have called on e-commerce minister Stephen Timms to give a more powerful lead in the drive to create Broadband Britain 2010.

Brian Condon, chief executive of the Access to Broadband Campaign, said on Wednesday that Timms is capable of coming up with bigger ideas for how the UK's high-speed Internet access market should develop during the next few years.

"We need a big idea as we plan towards 2010, and I think Timms has thoughts that could be useful to us. I want to see him pushing that more. He's certainly intellectually able enough to take a leading role," said Condon, in an interview with ZDNet UK.

Since becoming e-commerce minister in the summer of 2002, Timms has presided over a booming broadband market in the UK. There are now more than 3.5 million broadband connections at speeds of 150Kbps or faster, and some experts believe that the government will achieve its aim of creating the most extensive and competitive broadband market of any major industrialised nation by the end of 2005.

For organisations such as ABC, though, that's only the start of the challenge.

"If I could sit across a table with him [Timms], I'd tell him that he knows there's lots to do and that we must move on from the government's targets for 2005. The job won't be done when that's achieved," said Condon. He believes that the broadband sector needs to aim for a future in which affordable connections as fast as one gigabit per second are available.

Having worked formerly for Ovum and Logica, Timms is well respected in the IT industry for his depth of knowledge -- although there have been concerns about the size of his workload now that he is also the minister for energy.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Timms is already geared up for the challenges ahead.

"Stephen's already made it clear that we need to move beyond the targets for 2005," a DTI spokesman said. "It's important not to sit on our laurels, and we're already talking about 2010 and beyond."

Back in January, at an ABC conference, Timms said he was starting to consider the broadband roadmap towards 2010, and in a Broadband Stakeholder Group document published earlier this month, he wrote that it is now time to consider a new generation of faster services.

"In doing so, we may support real economic and social improvements such as productivity gains, educational improvements, skills enhancement, flexible teleworking and the improved delivery of public services," wrote Timms.

At present, however, no firm longer-term targets have been announced by the government.

Britain's wholesale market is dominated by BT's ADSL network and the cable networks of NTL and Telewest, and there are concerns that BT's copper network will not be capable of supporting services faster than a couple of megabits per second. The telco is currently working on a scheme to reengineer its network for the 21st century but Condon says that BT hasn't released enough details about this plan.

In a statement to ZDNet UK, a BT spokesperson said: "BT is making every effort to ensure that interested parties are aware of our 21st century network vision and the progress we are making. We are talking to the industry, to consultants, to academics, to regulators and to our customers."

Click here to read the full interview.