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NTL hits back in 128Kbps broadband row

The cable firm is accusing its rivals of indulging in dirty tricks as the government gets lambasted for its failure to agree on a clear definition of broadband
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The ongoing controversy over which types of Internet products should be called broadband resurfaced on Tuesday, as NTL slammed operators who have complained that its entry-level product isn't worthy of the description.

Alex Blowers, director of regulatory affairs at NTL, claimed in a speech at a Westminster Media Forum event in London that this infighting over definitions was damaging for the whole industry, and deterred some users from upgrading to broadband.

Blowers also suggested that some of the companies who were most keen to rubbish NTL's 128Kbps service (which was recently increased to 150Kbps) were acting largely out of self-interest, and just wanted to have the base point for broadband set "at the speed of their own entry-level product."

"If you don't like the fact that we're taking customers away from you with our 128Kbps and now our 150Kbps services, then you should start providing your own services at these speeds," Blowers told the audience, which included representatives from most of the major UK ISPs.

"We need to stop this dirty war," Blowers insisted.

NTL's 128Kbps/150Kbps product has been a subject of contention for months, amid claims from other broadband providers that it is too slow to provide a true "broadband experience".

The cable company also fell foul of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which ruled last month that that NTL was wrong to use the word broadband, without qualification, to describe the 128Kbps product. According to the ASA, most consumers would think that broadband means a service of 500Kbps or faster.

Users of the 128Kbps/150Kbps product have been counted as broadband users by Oftel when assessing the overall take-up of high-speed Internet services, but not when the regulator is assessing market dominance, a position that was also criticised on Tuesday.

"Without a clear definition of what broadband is, it simply isn't possible to tell who is monopolising the market," claimed a representative from Tiscali, pointing out that while ADSL and cable each have roughly half of the broadband market under today's government figures, the position is much less balanced if you subtract NTL's 128Kbps/150Kbps users.

It has been reported that there are around 380,000 users of NTL's 128Kbps/150Kbps service, out of a total of roughly two million broadband customers overall.

E-commerce minister Stephen Timms came under fire from one delegate over this issue, who claimed that there were at least six different and conflicting definitions of broadband. Timms, though, insisted there is no problem with this.

"As long as it is clear what is being offered to consumers, I don't think it matters that the term broadband is being used to describe several different services," Timms said.

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