Oftel urged to improve its broadband stats

Critics claim that a greater focus is needed on wireless and satellite technologies, as part of a more accurate assessment of the rural divide
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Rural campaigners have accused Oftel of failing to be rigorous enough in its monitoring of the UK's broadband market.

The newly formed Access to Broadband Campaign (ABC) has urged the regulator to take a closer look at alternative technologies that are being implemented in rural areas where ADSL and cable broadband are not available.

Charlie Sands, one of ABC's founders, has claimed that Oftel is focusing too heavily on ADSL and cable broadband while "doing little" to record the usage of other types of broadband access such as satellite broadband and Wi-Fi. He wants Oftel to begin gathering detailed statistics about the use of these alternative last-mile technologies.

"This is particularly important for monitoring the growth in rural broadband services which are likely to be offered via wireless rather than wired technologies," explained Sands in a report published last week on ABC's Web site.

In response, Oftel defended its broadband reporting -- pointing out that its "Broadband and Internet" brief does include estimates for satellite and broadband fixed wireless usage.

According to ABC, though, Oftel should also be publishing information of how broadband take-up varies across Britain -- in terms of both the location and the income level of users. "This is needed to more accurately measure the broadband digital divide to see what progress is being made in bridging it," Sands argued.

Oftel is hampered from providing such information, even if it wanted to, because it is reliant on individual broadband operators to supply it with data.

"The broadband information Oftel collects is given to the regulator directly by the operators concerned on a voluntary basis," explained an Oftel spokeswoman.

"Oftel publishes its Internet and Broadband Brief bi-monthly -- this contains the latest take-up figures for broadband in the UK, including ADSL, cable, satellite and fixed wireless access connections. Oftel is keen to ensure it captures the wide variety of broadband services available and will include information it receives about new networks and access points," she added.

At last month's Westminster Media Forum, concern was raised that it is often difficult for one person trapped in a broadband black spot to find details of local groups that may have been set up to address the issue.

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