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Re:Viewing 2002 - A year in broadband (Part 3)

September to December: A happy ending?
Written by Will Sturgeon, Contributor

September to December: A happy ending?

September picked up where August left off, with news that the UK was trailing behind in the global race to roll out broadband. Australia now added itself to the list of countries putting the UK to shame, nine per cent of Aussie homes having a broadband connection. At the time the UK figure was nearer to seven per cent (see http://www.silicon.com/a55426 for more). Later the same month the figures made for even more dismal reading. In Germany 39 per cent of homes boasted a high-speed internet connection, while in Sweden the figure was still a very respectable 33 per cent. This state of affairs was not lost on BT CEO Ben Verwaayen who invited silicon.com to meet with him to clear the air and discuss the state of broadband in Britain (see http://www.silicon.com/a55481 for more). Some of you laughed when Verwaayen said BT puts customers first and some of you feigned surprise when he insisted BT is a company which must be run for profit. But with Verwaayen repeating the 'BT is not a charity' line, it was time for a new call for government subsidies. This time it took an American to start the debate. Reed Hundt, former head of the FCC, said it was time the government stepped in to drive take-up and widen the reach of the much-vaunted technology (see http://www.silicon.com/a55603 for more). September was also the month BT announced its massive £33m advertising campaign for broadband. Two questions emerged regarding the high-profile campaign, which revolved around the notion that there is so much content available on broadband - including dragons, pigs on motorbikes and Jarvis Cocker up a lamppost - that it burst the fat pipe and escaped onto the streets of London. The first question many of our readers posed was, predictably, 'couldn't the money have been spent on enablement and taking a hit for less profitable exchanges?'. The second question addressed the adverts themselves when many people wondered whether it was wise for BT to be advertising the fact that these pipes and cables are prone to breaking. It doesn't give you too much confidence about receiving five-nines uptime. At the time Andy Williams, founder of Broadband4Britain, told silicon.com: "A dancing rhino is all very interesting but it doesn't exactly tell me why I should get broadband." Indeed. BT also rekindled its battles with Freeserve in September - taking exception to some particularly misleading marketing from its rival, which it felt duty bound to report to the Advertising Standards Authority (see http://www.silicon.com/a55495 for more). But for all the negativity and infighting, something was clearly sinking in as far as consumers were concerned, because October started with news that Britain was on the verge of the next broadband milestone - one million customers (see http://www.silicon.com/a55875 for more). Other positives to come out of October included the first triumph for a local community in hitting its trigger level and being rewarded with broadband. The success of Todmorden in Yorkshire provided a shining example to all that BT's system could work and, with enough effort from the community, broadband could become a reality (see http://www.silicon.com/a56055 for more). Other exchanges to hit their trigger levels in October were Irby on the Wirral, Paddock Wood and Pembury in Kent, Penn in Buckinghamshire, Ponteland in Northumberland and Twyford in Berkshire. "Like many things in life, you just have to fight for it." These were the words of Trevor Sherman, a broadband have-not from West Haddon in Northants and part of Broadbannd4Britain's Local Hero campaign. He offered valuable advice to anybody looking to bring high-speed web access to their area - to read more, see http://www.silicon.com/a56168 and http://www.silicon.com/a56165 . October also saw the bickering between Freeserve and BT resurface once more. The main point of contention was still BT's 'no frills' broadband product. This time BT retorted by accusing Freeserve of "perpetual but redundant belly-aching" (see http://www.silicon.com/a56128 for more). It was all getting a little bit 'playground'. Despite being able to take satisfaction from the previous month's successes and point scoring, BT was not resting in November. The company appointed Alison Ritchie as a dedicated chief broadband officer to ensure the roll out of broadband services remained an issue for boardroom consideration at all times. One of her first jobs may have been to make sense of the mixed messages which are rife in the broadband market. Can there be a better example than when Ovum analyst Jan Dawson called upon the government NOT to subsidise broadband (http://www.silicon.com/56421 ) - which pretty much went against everything anybody had said previously? Meanwhile, back in Wales they were attempting to cheat the system. Having seen BT's trigger level system reap successes in October, at least one resident in the North Wrexham area was artificially inflating the levels of interest on his exchange (see http://www.silicon.com/a56391 for more).
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