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Blair backs broadband

It'll 'revolutionise' our lives

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Prime Minister Tony Blair took time out yesterday from a hectic round of international diplomacy to address business leaders about the benefits of broadband.

Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference Mr Blair said broadband had the "potential to revolutionise many aspects of our lives".

And he reiterated his desire to use Government demand for broadband services, by way of schools, hospitals, GP surgeries etc, to help drive the roll-out of high-speed Internet services in areas currently devoid of such technology.

Said Mr Blair: "The UK is already one of the most connected economies in the world. Internet use is higher than in any other European country.

"The new challenge is broadband. We are in the early days of broadband but it has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of our lives.

"It has the potential to increase productivity, enhance competitiveness and enable new markets to be reached. It could radically improve public services.

"And it can help rural and remote economies - geographical location will no longer be a restriction to competing with urban rivals," he said.

While few would disagree with these sentiments, his assertion that the Government is "already taking the action necessary to advance broadband in Britain" is unlikely to be met with the same sense of nodding approval.

He said that there is more competition thanks to local loop unbundling and new wireless and satellite services.

He pointed out that more effective regulation had been put in place - where competition is absent - to ensure prices are internationally competitive.

And he said that Government was promoting exciting content to attract users to broadband services.

Some critics would argue that there is little hard evidence of this actually happening.

Surely, the Prime Minister doesn't believe that 150 unbundled lines justifies the tag of competition? And while BT is on the verge of launching a broadband satellite service, the prohibitive costs involved (£900 to install, compared to just £150 for ADSL, and a doubly expensive monthly subscription) is hardly a sign that prices are "internationally competitive".

Still, at least the Prime Minister's heart is in the right place. It's not as if he told business chiefs that Government will only support the roll-out of broadband if business gets behind it. ®

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