Britain needs broadband shake up

Suppliers at risk as services fail to satisfy Joe Public

The race to reengineer the Internet before the global network suffers a consumer backlash has been lost.

That's the stark conclusion of Parliamentary lobby group Eurim (the European Information Society Group) whose Secretary General, Philip Virgo, yesterday took suppliers to task at a presentation at the TMA2002 conference Brighton.

Virgo said the roll out of Broadband in Britains has been frustrated by a regulatory framework in Europe and Britain more suited to the 80s than the 21st Century. A conflict exist between control, planning and regulation on the one hand, and innovation and evolution on the other, he said.

As a result Britain has been left trailing in the wake of Broadband leaders such as Korea, where broadband speeds of up to 8Mbps are commonplace.

Korea, unlike Britain, understands the importance of broadband is not just about economics but "national and cultural survival", he added.

If Britain fails to act now it will become only significant as a "local English language base to address Europe", relegating its status to that of a city like Hong Kong rather than a strong player in the global economy, he added. Immediate action is necessary.

"Delivering a Broadband Britain that is capable of competing with the Pacific Rim (not just Europe) is the biggest and most urgent UK programme since the invasion of Normandy which, like Broadband rollout, was planned and delivered in 13 month using existing technologies in new ways," said Virgo.

Government involvement in technology projects has had a chequered history, so its important that the rollout of broadband (like the automatisation of PAYE tax payments) should be have programme management and monitoring, with reports made to a Cabinet Committee on its progress.

Virgo called on suppliers to co-operate with each other in providing reliable interoperability, improving quality, reducing costs and removing regulatory barriers. Competition rules would impose heavy fines for people co-operating in this way, suppliers in the audience suggested, but Virgo was unapologetic in insisting that such collaboration is needed.

In a marked contrast to an upbeat assessment of the Broadband business climate by e-Envoy Andrew Pinder, Virgo said if suppliers and carriers don't co-operate this quarter, they'll be out of business next year.

The industry needs to draw up a common programme and persuade politicians to support it.

"The computing and telecommunications industries have earned reputations as introverted nerds, who do not participate in public debate of objectives and priorities and expect the rest of the world to throw money at them despite their track record," said Virgo.

"There's too many products designed to impress enthusiasts and experts. Only those who reengineer their offerings for reliable use by ordinary human beings will survive," he warned. ®

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