MPs register broadband concerns

Nearly one in five MPs want more broadband action from both the government and the telecommunications industry

Over a hundred members of parliament have publicly called on BT and the government to do more to aid the rollout of broadband networks in rural areas.

An Early Day Motion (EDM) on broadband access, proposed by Jim Knight MP in December 2002, has now attracted the support of 115 MPs -- with more signing up every day.

This motion urges BT and other telcos to give more information about when broadband will available to areas where it isn't currently on offer.

It also encourages government departments to work together to drive the rollout of broadband networks across the UK, and to help implement projects that offer "higher bandwidth than ADSL" in rural areas. Consumer ADSL packages typically provide a 512Kbps downlink but the technology can be much faster, as with Bulldog's new 4Mbps product.

The list of MPs supporting the EDM includes Chris Bryant -- who expressed his concerns about broadband rollout when the select committee on Culture, Media and Sport considered the introduction of Ofcom -- and Derek Wyatt, another tech-savvy MP.

Both the government and BT, though, insist they are addressing these issues already.

"BT's registration scheme is the most transparent of its kind in the world," a BT spokesman told ZDNet UK. "It allows people to see how many registrations they require and it also allows them to monitor progress on a daily basis."

Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail, said last November that BT believes its ADSL network will cover 80 percent of the UK's homes and businesses by 2005, with further progress "dependant on technological progress."

Currently, ADSL is available to around two-thirds of the population -- but some in the industry are concerned that it isn't very clear which additional areas will be upgraded by 2005 and which will not.

The BT spokesman said that the question of which exchanges would fall into the target of 80 percent coverage was "in the hands of the public", as future rollout will reflect demand.

NTL and Telewest also offer broadband services, but given their current financial difficulties they are not expected to increase their network coverage significantly in the near future.

The government recently committed £1bn to fund the rollout of high-speed Internet access for public services, including providing all secondary schools with an 8Mbps broadband connection.

A DTI spokeswoman told ZDNet UK that it wasn't possible to say which other projects would offer "higher bandwidth than ADSL", but insisted that "the main thing for us is getting the infrastructure out there."

Despite having attracted so much support, this EDM will probably not be debated in parliament. Early Day Motions are generally used to draw attention to an issue, and they are generally seen as an indication of how much concern there is within parliament about a particular issue.

Click here to read the full text of the Broadband Access EDM, and to see if your MP has signed it.

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