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Broadband have-nots to raise a political stink

People who can't get broadband intend to be very vocal until they get it, politicians have been warned
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
People who are trapped on the wrong side of the broadband divide are going to put increasing amounts of pressure on politicians until the issue is addressed, the telecoms industry was warned on Thursday.

Antony Walker, chief executive of the Broadband Stakeholder Group, told the Wi-Fi and 3G Summit in London that companies and the government would be mistaken to underestimate the voice of the minority. "The digital divide is a significant political issue. People who can't get broadband will be very vocal until they get it," said Walker.

Several MPs have recently admitted that their postbags are groaning with letters from constituents angry that they can't get broadband.

Currently, about 85 percent of the population is covered by BT's ADSL network. Some people who can't get ADSL can get cable broadband, and community networks are also helping to close the gap. BT recently set another large swathe of broadband trigger levels. If all the telco's triggers were hit, it would take ADSL coverage to 99 percent of homes and businesses and leave just 600 local exchanges without broadband. This announcement virtually coincided with a speech from e-commerce minister Stephen Timms that called for broadband availability for all communities by the end of 2005.

Walker welcomed Timms's rallying cry, but admitted some questions remained unanswered. "We're still trying to work out what the definition of a community is, but it shows there is a desire within government to push broadband rollout," he said.

Walker also urged the government to pay greater attention to those in the UK who aren't showing interest in getting broadband, as well as those that want it and can't get it -- warning that the government's ambition of offering improved public services via the Internet could flounder unless broadband take-up continued to boom.

Walker cited recent research from the Oxford Internet Institute that found that 11 percent of people are already on broadband, with 24 percent planning to get it within the next year. This left 24 percent of Internet users who were not thinking of upgrading to a faster connection, and 41 percent of those surveyed who weren't online at all.

"This shows that 35 percent of people either already have broadband or can see a case for getting it, but that 65 percent don't understand what we're talking about or don't see how it would be good for them," Walker said.

Walker said that if this majority aren't attracted, it is hard to see how the government's goal of offering better public services online can be realised.

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