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Why the UK will always be second best on the Internet

Opinion: While Bell Atlantic is launching broadband in a box, UK web users are still waiting

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The prime minister goes around the country trying to persuade the business community that the Internet is a good idea; a second senior exec walks out of one of the UK's top companies complaining of a lack of Web investment. While '.com' is worth millions, '.co.uk' can't scrape together the price of a cup of tea. Americans have a very simple strategy which almost always works in their favour: if something looks, feels, smells and tastes better than what currently exists, they'll buy it and then, crucially, use it. And so it is with ADSL. ADSL makes the Internet go much, much faster than it does at the moment. It needs two things: a box at the end-point and a bigger box at a telephone exchange. That's about it. Now, compare these two approaches and decide which one's better. Approach One: Work on the technology until its reliability is assured. Start selling to big business. Make consumers aware of the technology. Offer cut-price DSL boxes for consumers to wire-up themselves to get the technology installed faster. Approach Two: Spend six years testing the technology. Wait until the government forces you to release it. Try to stop anyone else from using it. Make bold, contradictory statements within days of one another. Withhold as much information as possible. Delay. Delay some more. Charge over the odds. It doesn't take a genius to realise that approach number one belongs to Bell Atlantic and approach number two to good old BT. If you live in the US you can now go and by a DSL box from a store for $99 and have 640Kbps downstream for $50 (£30) a month or 7.1Mbps for $190 (£115) a month. If you live in the UK, from March next year you should be able to pay someone to fit the box for you (prices yet to be confirmed) and for 512Kbps you can expect to pay £40 per month, or, for the extravagant, a whole 2Mbps for just £150 a month. Incidentally, the senior exec mentioned at the beginning of this piece came from none other than BT. ®

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