Headlines: February 14th, 2001

Faster, cheaper, always-on access to online services is the goal of a strategy set out in a new report “UK online: the broadband future”. It supports the Government’s objectives of achieving universal access to the Internet by 2005 and the wider drive to develop the UK as a leading knowledge economy. New targets require the UK to have the most extensive and competitive broadband market in the G7 countries by 2005 and significantly increased broadband connections to all schools, libraries, further education colleges and universities.Broadband is the next leap forward for the Internet and will help to deliver the overall objectives of UK online, the public service portal. For consumers, broadband will mean a faster, more efficient internet and bring to an end the wait for pages to download. It will also offer opportunities for web-based interactive learning programmes as well as infotainment services such as streamed video and radio conferencing. Research from the US shows that consumers with broadband spend four times as long online and engage in a wider range of e-commerce activities than those with traditional narrowband connections.

The report suggests that whilst the majority of the UK’s population are likely to have access to broadband technologies by 2003, a significant minority of 15-20% might be left unserved. In a move to bridge this digital divide a new 30 m pound fund is being created to assist the devolved administrations and Regional Development Agencies in developing innovative schemes to meet local requirements for extending broadband networks. In addition, the Countryside Agency will fund an audit of public and private sector bandwidth requirements in 100 market towns – including at least six in the East of England. There are also proposals to ensure more effective procurement of the public sector’s broadband requirements, for schools, GP surgeries, police stations, and town halls, to encourage the private sector to speed up further roll out, and in particular drive broadband into rural areas.

The strategy will be taken forward by a new UK online Broadband Stakeholder Group, chaired by the e-Minister.