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Oftel gave itself a hearty pat on the back yesterday after announcing that, for the first time, more than half of all UK households are now connected to the Internet.

The telco watchdog found that home Internet use continues to rise, describing the current level of 50 per cent as a "significant increase" from 47 per cent in May 2003.

According to a raft of studies which Oftel unveiled this week, including the snappily titled Consumers' use of Internet Oftel residential survey Q14 August 2003 , broadband uptake is one of the fasting growing areas. It is currently enjoyed by some 18 per cent of all households, while a further one million users are expected to upgrade to fast access in the next 12 months.

Oftel calculates that, based on current usage patterns and experiences of problems with current narrowband connections, between 8 per cent and 14 per cent of current narrowband Internet customers are likely to upgrade to broadband within the next 12 months. This equates to between 750,000 to one million Internet customers.

Just under 90 per cent of these broadband customers indicated that they had upgraded from a narrowband package - 45 per cent from unmetered and 38 per cent from a pay as you go packages. Most were found to have upgraded for "broadband-specific reasons or benefits".

David Edmonds, Oftel boss, claimed in a statement that the UK has a broadband growth rate "stronger than both France and Germany".

By contrast, use of narrowband remained stable this quarter at just over a third of all Internet homes. Some 43 per cent of households indicated that they currently use narrowband unmetered access, while 36 per cent said they use narrowband metered services.

Somewhat surprisingly, the vast majority of UK web surfers - some 90 per cent - declared themselves "satisfied" with their overall Internet services. ®

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