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BT is responsible for the tardy roll-out of broadband services in Britain according to a report out today.

The Working Paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) argues that Britain currently trails other countries in terms of the cost of broadband, the number of homes connected and the speed of services available.

And it warns that unless something is done Britain will slip further and further behind other nations jeopardising the Government's stated aim of making the UK a leader in broadband communication and services.

Of course, there's nothing new in bashing BT. Only last week The Economist joined in and said that "BT is frustrating the government’s ambition to get Britain wired".

However, Open Networks: A solution to Britain's Broadband Problems? suggests two possible ways the perceived problems dogging the roll-out of broadband in Britain could be eased.

Neither is groundbreaking. However, in the context of recent developments the publication of the report progresses the debate concerning Britain's broadband interests. More importantly, the solutions expressed have come at a time when people are receptive to these ideas.

Author, Tom Steinberg, argues that the government should "commit itself to basing its broadband policy on a market in which shareholder interests are complementary rather than contradictory to the aim of making the UK the most IT enabled nation in the world."

In other words, the Government should begin considering the idea of an "open network".

This could either be done physically with the creation of at least one new network run by a company which had no shareholder interests in operating services to end users.

The alternative, and the author's preferred option, is to ensure that BT's network, which is already in the process of being spun off into its own company, should be made fully independent from BT service providers and beholden to its own new set of shareholders.

This would, argues Steinberg, eliminate the current concerns regarding the make-up and interaction between different parts of BT. And he argues that the Government has a unique opportunity to do something in the coming year.

He writes: "In order to break itself up, BT must receive permission from OFTEL. This puts OFTEL in a powerful position to make demands from BT, one of which could be the division of shareholder interests into cleanly separated ownership."

For Oftel, read "the Government". Oftel wouldn't be able to bargain with BT unless it had the backing - and the mandate - from Government. Is that likely? Not in today's climate. E-minister, Patricia Hewitt, won't say a bad work about BT even though there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that broadband Britain just ain't happening the way the Government says it is. ®

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Open Networks: A solution to Britain's Broadband Problems?

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