Tories hit out over broadband speeds

The senior Conservative MP responsible for IT issues claims the government's broadband strategy is flawed, because it allowed services as slow as 128Kbps to be sold as broadband

The shadow minister responsible for IT has slammed the government for allowing services as slow as 128 kilobits per second (Kbps) to be classified as broadband, in a sign that broadband could be a major factor in the next general election.

Speaking at the "Revolution at the Edge: Broadband Networks and Innovation" conference in London on Wednesday, Michael Fabricant MP claimed that the government had failed to implement a decent broadband strategy because it hasn't pushed for sufficiently fast broadband services.

"Oftel and the government have qualified its take-up figures by stating they are for download speeds of between 128Kbps and two Megabits per second (Mbps). You and I know that 128Kbps is not broadband as we would understand it."

"In actual fact, the definition of what constitutes broadband is open to some dispute, with many considering the definition of broadband to be services over 500Kbps," Fabricant told the audience at the conference, which was organised by the Access to Broadband Campaign (ABC).

Currently, a wide range of services are marketed as broadband -- from the 150Kbps services of NTL and Tiscali to the 8Mbps offered by Easynet. This has led to claims that the official figures for broadband take-up are inaccurate, as they include services that are too slow to justify the broadband tag.

Fabricant is concerned that people who buy these slowest broadband products might not always understand what they're paying for. "I believe this failure to pin down the speeds constituting broadband might go some way to explaining Oftel's latest research, which says that one in 10 broadband customers are unhappy with their service, saying that it is slower than they anticipated," said the shadow minister for economic affairs.

Addressing the ABC conference on Wednesday, e-commerce minister Stephen Timms admitted that there isn't a detailed plan for how faster broadband services -- such as those available in South Korea -- will be rolled out in the UK.

"We don't yet have a clear roadmap to a future where there is fibre everywhere. We need to start work on that roadmap," Timms said. "I look forward to that debate being a serious one, following the great progress that has been achieved recently in the UK broadband sector," the minister added.