MPs to investigate ‘Broadband Britain’

What is the state of the e-nation?

A group of MPs is to hold an inquiry into the state of "Broadband Britain".

The Trade and Industry Committee, chaired by Labour MP Martin O'Neill, has set itself a broad remit for its investigation, which kicks off later in the autumn.

Specific details are still sketchy, but among the issues to be discussed is the roll-out of broadband and the different technologies used - be it ADSL, satellite or whatever.

The committee is also planning to look at the effect of competition on the broadband landscape against the backdrop of BT's own roll-out of ADSL and its supporting marketing operation.

Other areas signalled for investigation include access to the market for retail broadband providers (ISPs) and what impact this has on end users.

The UK's dominant telco, BT, welcomed the inquiry - especially in light of its announcement earlier this week that four out of five homes are now connected to an ADSL-enabled exchange.

Echoing concerns raise by the eminister earlier this week, BT accepted that reaching the last 20 per cent of homes - and the last ten per cent in particular - is "a challenge that faces the whole industry, the government and the regulator alike".

Commenting on the inquiry, a spokesman for the telco said: "BT welcomes the new inquiry and looks forward to supplying the committee with whatever information it requires. The UK has been making great progress with broadband and BT particularly welcomes the committee's decision to look at the topic from the point of view of the customer."

It's interesting that BT has singled out the end-user perspective, latching onto this element of the debate rather than issues of competition. Initial reaction from ISPs AOL, Freeserve and Tiscali have all touched upon the need for greater competition in the wholesale provision of broadband services and releasing BT's stranglehold on the supply of wholesale ADSL services.

Without this, the argument goes, there will be minimal innovation and little pressure on keeping prices down.

A spokesman for AOL summed up what he believes to be a key concerns for broadband ISPs: "Long term, it's about how the market will become more competitive at a wholesale level."

Interest parties looking to take part in the inquiry need to submit written evidence to the committee by Friday, 24 October. ®

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