Britain to be 90% broadband in three years, says minister

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The Independent Online

Stephen Timms, the e-commerce minister, has promised that 90 per cent of the UK population will have access to broadband by 2006.

The target comes just two weeks after Government ministers were criticised by the Commons' Rural Affairs Committee for failing to address the digital divide between town and country. Currently, 72 per cent of the UK population has access to broadband, but this is skewed towards urban areas, where it is economic for companies to build a broadband network.

But Mr Timms claimed that a new Government initiative to set up nine Regional Aggregation Bodies (RABs) to buy broadband services collectively will accelerate the rollout. The Government is committed to providing broadband in every school by 2006.

"This is going to be a big contributor to getting broadband to rural areas," said Mr Timms. "I think we can get to a situation where we have 90 per cent of the population within reach of broadband in three years."

The RABs will be twinned with the Regional Development Agencies and will collectively spend £1bn on broadband for schools, hospitals and local authorities over three years.

"More companies will start to make broadband available in remote areas," said Mr Timms, who ruled out subsidies to connect the remaining 10 per cent of the population to broadband.

"I don't see the need for that at the moment. But I wouldn't say 'under no circumstances'," added Mr Timms. "Take mobile phones, for example. People were saying that the Government needed to provide a subsidy to ensure there was coverage in remote areas. But I suspect that a subsidy would have actually slowed things down."