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New Labour's Internet election pledge canned

Broadband Britain buried for May battle

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The grand vision of Broadband Britain™ was to be a main election issue for New Labour, we have been reliably informed, but may have to be canned thanks to the current controversy surrounding BT's ADSL roll-out.

The threat last week of legal action by AOL and Freeserve - incensed at the apparent favouritism shown by BT to its subsidiaries - has made broadband a political hot potato and not one that Labour wants to handle in the election run-up.

In one sense, Labour has been lucky in the timing of the DSL argument - with the election most likely in May, Tony Blair et al have already started outlining their election stances. A few weeks later and the Tories could have been beating the government with a broadband stick right up to polling day.

Not only that but today in the FT, culture secretary Chris Smith has been watering down the claim that everyone in the UK will have fast, unmetered Net access by 2005. "We want Internet access for all by 2005 but that won't necessarily, even in a perfect world, mean broadband access," he told the newspaper. Did he blame BT or regulator Oftel? This time, it's Oftel's fault. "One of the problems with the present structure of regulation is that it has not allowed the process to happen as quickly as we might have wished," he said.

Oftel's snail-like speed has also been challenged by AOL and Freeserve. Both have told Oftel that they're not willing to wait for another lengthy investigation - not while BTOpenworld signs up 300 to 500 customers a day and then sign up just 20 and 16 respectively. Oftel is trying to sound calm but is clearly a little shaken. Labour's canning of the broadband issue will be greeted with joy by the winged watchdog.

In fact, the Internet really isn't Labour's favourite son at the moment. It has also decided to bin plans to advertise over the Net in the run-up to the election. Apparently, political Web advertising wasn't a great success in the American election. But then what was?

Net ads just don't work and could even be alienating existing supporters, they say. We reckon it's more of a misunderstanding of the medium. Political parties have next to no understanding about Web culture and so its efforts are likely to be way off the mark. The same is still true to an extent with television advertising - which no party has yet mastered.

And then of course there's the case of the Labour employee caught red-handed posting anonymous criticisms of Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru. All in all, not Tony Blair's favourite medium at the moment. ®

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