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Oftel has a new definition for broadband - and about time too.

After recent ditherings in which it regarded services operating at speeds of 128kbit/s as both broadband and narrowband, the telecoms regulator has come off the fence.

According to a broadband market review published this week, Oftel proposes to redefine broadband Internet services as "always-on services which have a downstream capacity in excess of 256 kbits".

It had considered making the threshold as high as 300kbit/s or above but reasoned that "it is difficult to define a precise speed given swift technological changes which may allow these services to be delivered over lower speeds in the future".

So, in what appears to be a common sense move, the regulator decided to define the boundary between narrowband and broadband on the basis of the speeds of existing products in the UK market.

"Given the availability of a 256kbit/s broadband internet access product from Tiscali, the Director [of Telecoms] currently considers that it is appropriate to define broadband internet access at speeds in excess of 256kbit/s since the products currently available above this speed will allow different content such as streaming video to be delivered," the regulator says.

And in a move that shows a degree of flexibility on the regulator's part, it has also accepted that this definition is likely to change in the future "as new Internet access services of different speeds are created and as new broadband content develops".

So, why has it taken so long for the regulator to take a lead on the subject? Here's what the report says: "In June 2002 the available Internet access services were at 128 kbits/sec (and below) and 512 k/bit/sec (and above). The Director chose not to specify more precisely the boundary for the start of broadband services within this range, and for the purposes of that Direction it did not need to do so.

"However, since then the services provided or planned to be provided have changed slightly. In particular, the Director is aware of services or planned services at 150 kbit/sec and 256 kbit/sec. These new services have required Oftel to be more specific about the boundary for broadband services between 128 and 512 kbit/sec."

This doesn't look like good news for NTL, which is adamant that its 128 kbit/s (and soon-to-be 150 kbit/s) always-on service is broadband.

So will Oftel delete from its official figures all those services below 256 kbit/s? Not on your Nelly.

A spokesman for the regulator told us that, for statistical purposes, Oftel will still count as broadband all services that are 128 kbit/s and above, so that the UK's broadband performance can be compared to other European countries on a "like for like basis". What's that saying about lies, damn lies and...? ®

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