"Broadband? Don't hold your breath", says local MP who has talked of growing frustration with suppliers who persist in "advertising the unavailable"
Advertising for "Broadband" Internet access is becoming increasingly high-profile, but just amounts to "piling on the agony" for the many local people who want it but can't get it, according to North West Hampshire MP Sir George Young.
"Earlier this year I was congratulating BT on their change of policy, when they lifted a 'freeze' on ADSL (broadband) deployment", he says. "But now I get a growing postbag from constituents who are increasingly frustrated by being told to buy something that simply isn't being made available to them.
Since March, the total number of exchanges that offer broadband has grown by just ten - an increase of less than 10%. All over the country local communities are responding to BT exhortations to "register an interest" in the hope that their local exchange will be added to the list. Few of them realise that even should they reach BT's magic "trigger number" of registrations, they will still have another hurdle to surmount - BT then sets a target for firm commitments to the service before it will agree to enable the local exchange."
BT not entirely to blame
Although he would like to see a more positive roll out programme from BT, Sir George believes that unclear and inadequate government policy is the real culprit. "For more than a year now I have been asking Ministers to sort out a more positive strategy for bring broadband to outlying towns, villages and the countryside", he says. "They have a committment to get all Government services online by 2005, but no strategy to make sure people in towns and villages and the countryside will be able to access those services using broadband. Not by 2005; not ever."
Impact on businesses and local communities
The official answer has remained the same - and it's full of holes. They talk about pilot schemes. They talk about alternatives to ADSL. But no firm policy to make sure the countryside gets broadband. Since the government itself has proclaimed the importance of broadband to companies and the economy, this presents a serious problem for small firms and for people working at home. And that in turn presents a serious future problem for town and village communities: I already have constituents telling me they may have to move their business location in order to be competitive.
"Keep registering an interest"
Despite his scepticism about BT's roll out plans Sir George continues to urge Internet users to register an interest if they live in places not yet able to get the ADSL service. "It's important to show there is a demand for broadband in towns and villages and the countryside", he says, "because lack of demand has been one of the reasons given for not providing the service.
However it happens we must and will get broadband Internet access for everyone."
Notes for editors:
1. Details of BT roll out (numbers of exchanges etc):
2. Government policy:
This was at one time well covered at http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk; however, broadband policy has moved to DTI and as at 21 Feb 2003 it's difficult to find it at their website, see my news item about this - link below this item.
3. What is broadband, state of play and how to register an interest (my Broadband Campaign pages):