Government 'getting closer' to key broadband goal

Forthcoming figures should give the kiss of life to the goal of making Britain the G7's 'most extensive and competitive broadband market' by 2005

Britain's days of lagging behind in the broadband stakes are over, according to e-commerce minister Stephen Timms.

Speaking in parliament last week, Timms said he is confident that new figures will soon show that the UK is finally outperforming many rival nations.

If so, the government could yet be on track to achieve its broadband targets -- something that has often looked unlikely in the past.

In a parliamentary debate on broadband last week, Andrew Robathan MP -- shadow trade and industry secretary -- was critical of some aspects of the government's performance over broadband. Robathan said that Britain was lagging "woefully" behind nations such as Japan and Germany in terms of the number of broadband connections per head of population.

In reply, Timms told the Commons that "those figures will be reassessed in the course of the next few weeks and I am confident that the new ones will tell a rather happier tale than the one that the hon. gentleman is relating."

The figures in question are understood to refer to research currently being produced by research group Analysys. An Analysys spokeswoman confirmed on Wednesday that it will submit a report on the broadband market to the government within a few weeks.

Analysys has conducted several broadband benchmarking reviews in the past, including for the most recent Broadband Stakeholder Group report, which found that the government was far from hitting its target of making Britain the most competitive and extensive broadband market of all the G7 nations by 2005.

This most recent report put Britain fourth out of seven in terms of competitiveness, calculated in terms of market regulation, the number of companies competing to offer broadband services, and price. Britain came fifth out of seven in 'extensiveness', measured in terms of market context -- how much competition broadband faces from services such as unmetered narrowband and digital TV -- and availability, or coverage.

In the last year the UK has seen a massive boost in broadband take-up, with an estimated 1.9 million broadband users (including users of 128Kbps services). Take-up, though, is not a factor in calculating extensiveness or competitiveness, as it is seen as an effect rather than a cause of a successful market.

A DTI spokeswoman confirmed that the government expected that Analysys' figures were "likely to be pretty positive," but declined to speculate on how far Britain might have risen up the extensiveness and competitiveness indices.

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