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S Korea broadband in league of its own

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The UK Government has yet to respond to a report which examines South Korea's place as the world's leading broadband nation.

The report, compiled by Brunel University and part-funded by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), attempts to understand why six out of every ten (9.2m) South Korean households has broadband.

In contrast, just four per cent of UK homes are hooked up to high speed Net access.

Academics found six keys areas that explained South Korea's lead, which included such matters as population density, price, education and the ready availability of high speed Net access on the high street.

However, perhaps the most interesting issue focuses on the South Korean Government's approach to broadband.

Unlike the UK, the report found that the South Korean Government realised that if it wanted the rewards associated with broadband, it had to invest. Which is why it has pumped in $1.5bn to help construct a high capacity infrastructure supplemented by a further $1bn through soft loans.

It also made available more than $700m to fund R&D, provided subsidies for low-income households to purchase PCs and ensured that there was free IT training for those who wanted it.

Of course, money alone is not the answer. But the report concludes: "By having a clear vision and strategy, the government ensured a high degree of confidence and certainty for private sector companies. Although it is difficult to quantify the impact of the government's involvement, it seems very unlikely that South Korea would be the world's leading broadband nation without it."

The UK Government, on the other hand, has so far only committed £30m to broadband and ruled out any tax breaks that might assist in the roll out of broadband networks. Instead, it is looking to aggregate public sector demand in a bid to entice broadband operators to expand their services.

So, what about this all-important issue of "confidence" of which the report speaks? Surely, this is the most important factor of them all, since "confidence" gives everyone involved the chance to build for the future.

Ho hum - it seems on this issue the UK is also well wide of the mark. In May 2002, the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) said it wants to see 20Mbps services to the home by 2005.

And what of the UK? Only last week Oftel claimed a major victory by proclaiming that there were more than one million broadband users in the UK. Its definition of broadband? Any "always-on service, offering data rates of 128kbps and above".

Curiously, this isn't even the same as the UK Government's definition of broadband which, is anything above 384kbps. And the e-envoy's office? Despite several requests for a definition it hasn't even been able to supply an answer, except to say that broadband describes a "wide range of technologies that allow high-speed, always-on access to the Internet".

Confidence? When the Government and its different agencies can't even agree what broadband is? You must be joking. ®

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