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Broadband 'go slow': Government gets off lightly in blame game

BT fingered, but is the telco just the government's 'fall guy'?
Written by Will Sturgeon, Contributor

BT fingered, but is the telco just the government's 'fall guy'?

BT has come in for renewed criticism over the slow roll out of broadband in the UK - but there are growing calls for the government to shoulder more responsibility at it lets the oft-criticised telco 'take a bullet' on its behalf. BT was singled out for blame by 51 per cent of respondents to a silicon.com survey, who said the telco was responsible for the slow roll-out of broadband services in the UK. But BT is not alone in the firing line; the government comes in for criticism too, with almost 30 per cent of respondents blaming those walking the corridors of power. Among industry experts there is growing criticism of the government's part in the broadband roll-out. Voices traditionally anti-BT have conceded the telco has been unfairly targeted with a lot of the blame. Even Andy Williams, founder of Broadband4Britain, and normally a dead-cert for anti-BT sentiment, told silicon.com the government has got off lightly. "I would like to see the apportionment of blame the other way around," he said. "The government is responsible for creating the market in which BT operates and the government is responsible for regulating BT." "I don't want to appear like a BT apologist, but BT is now moving as aggressively as it can and has really gone up a gear. From our position we've seen a real shift in BT's stance on broadband but the public sector has been really slow to change. The government is yet to deliver and there is a short-termism in its thinking which will do a real disservice to UK plc." A spokesman for BT said: "Broadband is now available to over 70 per cent of the UK population. And if all the exchanges meet their trigger levels, this number will go up to 90 per cent." Trevor Sherman, a 'local hero' profiled by silicon.com last year as he attempted to bring broadband to West Haddon in the Midlands, and who falls firmly in the 10 per cent who aren't even on BT's radar, also believes the telco is not to blame. "It's true, a year ago I was blaming BT for the fact I couldn't get broadband but that's all changed. BT has been slow to move on this issue and they do have a tendency to hide behind the need to act in their shareholders' interests, but on balance I blame the government." Sherman singled out government telecoms watchdog Oftel for failing to take the broadband ISP market in hand. "The government could have opened this up to a far bigger supplier market and should have set the strategy for how this works," he said. BT claims it is actively helping those campaigning to meet trigger levels in rural Britain. "There are currently over 1,500 campaigning groups and we are helping many of them - for example, we've distributed over one million leaflets and have dedicated resources for those campaigners looking to raise awareness of broadband in their area. "The concept of a Broadband Britain is becoming a reality - BT is connecting around 25,000 people to broadband every week; the company receives a new broadband order every 24 seconds, and BT engineers upgrade the equivalent of one new exchange every day." Also coming in for blame were Margaret Thatcher and her Tory government for the privatisation which set BT free from the obligation to provide service at a loss. As a company answerable to its shareholders BT must now put profit and economic viability before providing service to loss-making regions. Other respondents claimed all broadband providers are to blame - including NTL and Telewest - for making the services prohibitively priced. Even public reticence and a 'somebody else will sort it out attitude' were highlighted as reasons why UK surfers have been slow to get high-speed web access - with communities often failing to unite in pursuit of BT's trigger levels.
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