Microsoft urges Europe to speed up broadband services

Same old story on broadband... Are the regulators listening?

Speaking at the Telecom 99 conference in Geneva, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has urged network operators to roll out broadband services as quickly as possible.

Gates told delegates broadband services are core to Microsoft's plans to provide software for PCs, televisions, telephones and other devices. He stressed that Microsoft has no intention of becoming a telecommunications company or cable operator. Despite this Microsoft has made significant investments in both telecoms and cable companies over the last 15 months, including NTL, Nextel and AT&T.

Microsoft's telecommunications marketing manager Jonathan Usher admitted Europe is slow to roll out broadband services, "In Europe the market is behind and regulation clearly has an impact on this. In the US the Telecommunications Act of 1996 unbundled the local loop and has really opened the market up. In Europe the more deregulated markets will develop more quickly than the regulated ones," he said.

Echoing AOL's AOL Anywhere strategy, Usher reiterated the importance of broadband to Microsoft. "We want to see broadband and mobility succeed and faster, easy-to-use Internet access anytime, anywhere. That is Microsoft's vision."

So, like AOL will Microsoft be calling for unmetered Internet access? Usher refused to be drawn on UK pricing but did sing the praises of the US system. "Local calls are free in America and the infrastructure is pretty advanced compared to the rest of the world but different geographies and different markets have different needs," he said.

Not missing the opportunity to have a swipe at AOL -- arch-rival to Microsoft in the instant messaging debacle -- Usher denied Microsoft's strategy had anything in common with AOL's. "Our focus is different from AOL. They are proprietary and you don't see too much co-branding from them whereas we are working in partnership with many companies," he said.

Usher added to speculation that Microsoft is considering launching free access services in Europe. "Free ISPs are enjoying pretty amazing growth and we are looking at that model," he said.

While Microsoft refused to comment on the progress of particular telcos, BT has been criticised by other industry experts for failing to roll out DSL quickly enough. BT denied it has been tardy to roll-out DSL services, claiming its DSL strategy is the "most aggressive in Europe".