Broadband ‘revolution is in the air’ – BT's Bland

Reality check

Britain is on the verge of a broadband revolution, according to the chairman of BT.

Writing in the Sunday Times Sir Christopher Bland said the time is right for the industry to act and make Broadband Britain a reality.

"The investment has been made. The planning is almost complete. Revolution is in the air - and it is up to our industry to make it happen."

However, "this year we will see advances in...broadband" as operators "encourage customers to move up the value chain to broadband".

This appears to signal a small change of heart from BT which has blamed the sluggish take-up of broadband on, among other things, the wide availability of affordable unmetered narrowband Net access.

Perhaps there is something radical in the air - if it's now acknowledged that the UK's massive user base of unmetered narrowband Net users can be used as a stepping stone to broadband - and not a barrier.

Unfortunately, when it comes to radicalism, that's as far as it goes as other parts of Sir Christopher's epistle are taken straight from the standard BT script.

"In Britain, broadband is available to more than half of all homes, yet fewer than 1 per cent have taken it up," he writes.

"The focus has to shift in 2002 from supply to demand. Take-up will depend on creating compelling content, increasing awareness, effective marketing and improved customer service."

This is true - in part - but the issue of content is a red herring. As a telco, BT should concentrate on providing a broadband service that's available to all - both by geography and at a price people can afford. Let others worry about content.

It's not just what Sir Christopher says that's important, what he omits that is more telling. For once again, BT has dodged the key issue of price.

He talks about content, awareness and marketing as key to take-up. But the cost of ADSL at the moment is simply out of the reach of many people and this still remains one of the greatest impediments to a "broadband revolution".

Sir Christopher also raises the idea that BT could branch out into the delivery of broadcast content much like BSkyB or the cable companies.

At the end of last year BT applied for a licence to provide "television services" over cable or phone networks (xDSL effectively) although this still needs approval from Oftel and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). More importantly, it needs major investment on BT's part at a time when its still trying to slash its debt.

It's an intriguing idea that's been raised before, but it's not realistic at the moment. BT's had its fill of "big ideas" - it should concentrate on running its business, keeping its customers happy and delivering value for its shareholders.

Elsewhere, BT has rejected newspaper reports that its new CEO, Arsenal-supporting Ben Verwaayen, is considering selling the company's fixed line phone network.

A BT spokeswoman told The Register: "That's utter rubbish." ®

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Related Link

My View: Sir Christopher Bland: We built IT. Now they will come - Sunday Times (registration required).

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