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'Fair terms at competitive prices' for all

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The Government should do more to ensure that all of the UK - and not just towns and cities - is hooked up to affordable broadband services.

That's one of the suggestions put forward in a report Always on, Changing Britain published by communications thinktank, The European Media Forum (EMF), which examines the social and economic potential of broadband in the UK

Sponsored by BT, the report consists of essays from the likes of e-minister Stephen Timms, the information commissioner Richard Thomas and BT futurologist Ian Pearson.

Sociologist Professor Frank Furedi reckons that Governments should play a more active role in the universal provision of Internet infrastructure.

"The aim should be to secure broadband access on fair terms and at competitive prices to all communities regardless of location. The British government has set the target for having 100 per cent broadband coverage by 2005. However this is likely to require more than exhortation to reach all the one in six of the population that are at present not served by DSL or cable access," he writes.

And he reckons that the UK could learn a thing or two by looking at how other countries have approached the roll-out of broadband.

"For example, the South Korean government's system of backing for the rapid dispersal of high speed residential cabling cannot be replicated exactly in the UK, but relevant lessons should be assessed by government and could be applied here."

Last month, that tack was effectively ruled out by Ofcom boss David Currie who insisted that the Government should rely on good-old competition to deliver true broadband services.

"We do not 'do' state monopolies well in this country," he told delegates at a conference.

"So we should be just as wary of putting all our eggs in one basket in broadband as we are in other areas of economic activity. We have to work with our capital markets and our system. Competition. Let's harness Adam Smith. Our vision has to be that we have to get to 10 Mb, competitively."

Elsewhere, Professor Furedi argues that email, instant messaging and chatrooms have "brought about ways of maintaining social relationships, which already has had profound effects".

"While internet communication has partially displaced some existing forms of social contact - letter writing, phone calls - the more important effect has been to create many more linkages between people," he wrote, leading to new social practices such as online communities. ®

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