Industry group demands push for faster broadband

Giving everyone access to a 512Kbps connection is only the start of the broadband challenge, according to a leading body

The Broadband Industry Group (BSG) has called on the government to set new ambitions for Britain's high-speed Internet access market, including targets for the rollout of significantly faster networks than are being deployed today.

In its third annual report, published on Wednesday, the BSG warned that despite the good progress achieved in Broadband Britain in recent years it would be wrong to think that the major problems are now solved.

Instead, the BSG wants the government to commit itself to supporting investment in "next-generation" broadband technologies, on top of its existing target of creating the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the industrialised world by 2005.

"Demand in broadband services is likely to increase over the next five to ten years. Significant new investment in different technologies ahead of the demand curve is vital," said the BSG. "Given the very high costs in investment -- this looks prohibitively expensive today, particularly when operators are not sure of the levels of return on investment," the group added.

BT, which offers an entry-level ADSL broadband product at 512 kilobits per second (Kbps), as well as its new one megabit per second (Mbps) service, has already backed the BSG's call with Alison Ritchie -- BT chief broadband officer -- pointing out that broadband means much more than just DSL and cable.

"Broadband services are getting faster and so new networks will have to be built to support the services of the future. These networks require huge investment from key players such as BT and so it is critical that regulation encourages that investment," said Ritchie in a statement.

"This is particularly the case in the UK where the private sector carries the burden of such investment. The challenge is to create an environment in which industry leaders feel justified in making investments and investors are confident they will reap the appropriate rewards," Ritchie added.

Other ADSL wholesale providers are ahead of BT in the speed stakes, with Easynet selling an 8Mbps service. However, its network covers a much smaller area than BT's. In the cable market, Telewest leads the way with a 2Mbps service.

But the UK is shamed by many of our European rivals. In Italy, the Fastweb project provides high-speed data, video-on-demand and voice services over a Metro Ethernet network. In Vienna, the Wienstrom network is giving 1,000 subscribers a 10Mbps Ethernet connection.