Cable beats ADSL to one million mark

NTL and Telewest lead the way, but arguments about NTL's 128Kbps service have slightly taken the shine off the achievement

Over one million people now get broadband via cable, as NTL and Telewest continue to keep pace with BT in the high-speed Internet stakes.

Figures released by the UK's two cable companies on Wednesday showed that the one million barrier was broken this week, as predicted last month by ZDNet UK.

According to NTL and Telewest, this shows that cable is playing a fundamental role in the creation of Broadband Britain. They claim that, when given a choice between cable broadband and ADSL, three in four people are choosing cable.

The figures also suggest that the UK's cable industry is outperforming that of the US.

"Penetration of cable broadband in the US is about 20 percent of all cable customers, but in the UK the figure is now 25 percent. It's an achievement that NTL and Telewest are now exceeding the US rate in terms of broadband take-up by their customer base, especially as they started offering broadband much later," one industry source told ZDNet, adding that the cable industry's focus on low start-up costs could be a lesson for the rest of the industry.

The figures have also been welcomed by e-commerce minister Stephen Timms.

However, they have been questioned by some in the industry who claim that it is wrong to include NTL's 128Kbps product in the figures, because it is too slow to count as broadband -- a charge that NTL denies.

Earlier this month the Advertising Standards Agency ruled that NTL must make the 128Kbps speed clear in any future advertising of the product. The ASA claimed that most consumers would think that broadband means a service of 500Kbps or faster.

BT is aiming to achieve one million ADSL customers this summer.

Speaking on Wednesday, a BT spokesperson said, "This is a significant and welcome milestone in terms of the rapid growth of broadband except ... er ...I wonder if NTL could just remind us how many of their broadband customers are on 128K? - just for the record that is."

In response, NTL declined to say how many people use its 128Kbps service, but said it was on offer because some customers want a "competitively priced, entry-level broadband product", and suggested it was significantly better than BT's forthcoming Midband product.

"Perhaps BT should concentrate on bringing a sensibly priced, entry-level product to market rather than Noband, sorry Midband," suggested a source within NTL.

BT will reveal more details of Midband on Thursday, and the 128Kbps ISDN-based product is expected to cost £35 per month, even though it will not offer services such as always-on email, as previously promised.

This led one industry source to claim this week that Midband's launch will make BT look like "the Comical Ali" of the UK's telecoms industry, in a reference to the former notorious Iraqi information minister.

See the Broadband News Section for the latest on cable modems, ADSL, satellite and other high-speed access technologies, including a comprehensive guide to the best deals out there.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.