Government 'must make leap to broadband'

Telewest believes that offering health and education services to broadband users would give a massive boost to the UK's high-speed Internet sector
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The UK government must help develop Broadband Britain by developing online versions of its existing services that will make use of high-speed Internet access, according to cable firm Telewest.

Giving evidence to the select committee of culture, media and sport on Tuesday, Telewest chief executive Adam Singer explained that many existing government services could be made appealing to users of high-speed Internet products.

Singer claimed that the government fails to give sufficient emphasis to broadband.

"Broadband is about much more than just video," Singer said. "It has great potential in many areas -- health, for example. It lets you take x-rays to doctors, rather than taking doctors to x-rays as we do today."

The education sector could also benefit. "With broadband you can also take those 19th century institutions, the museums, and make them available to thousands of primary schools via a high-speed link," added Singer.

Telewest recently launched a health service on its broadband network in partnership with the NHS. Since last summer Telewest subscribers have been able to talk to a NHS Direct nurse via their telephone and see the nurse on their television at the same time. This project, called Living Health, allows the nurse to display photos and videos that may help in the consultation.

The British government is committed to a policy of putting all its services online by 2005. However, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office was unable to say whether this includes a specific strategy towards broadband.

The government has been attacked from some quarters for failing to provide direct financial assistance to broadband infrastructure providers. Singer said, though, that he doesn't want subsidies. He believes the government can give a considerable boost to the broadband industry simply by turning its existing services into broadband applications.

"We're asking the government to come and make use of our network, so that there will be more public need for broadband," Singer said. "We want every department to come and play with the technology, free of charge, so they can find better ways of offering their existing services."

The select committee asked whether Telewest had been able to put its views to the government. Singer replied that it typically took six months just to get an appointment with a minister at the department of culture, media and sport -- news that one MP, Michael Fabricant, described as "shocking".

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