NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON BT BROADBAND - Are BT's broadband services the future of UK internet use? BT broadband capabilities are set to up the ante for ads on the net

Remember Broadband Britain? New prime ministers tend to be keen on

their high-tech slogans, and Broadband Britain was Tony Blair's. When he

came to power more than four years ago, there was talk of a quid pro quo

pact with BT.



The Government would lift restrictions on BT using its infrastructure to

become, in effect, a broadcaster or a cable TV operator; and in

exchange, BT would invest £15 billion upgrading its infrastructure

to enable everyone to receive broadband digital.



Back then everyone presumed this would mean covering the country in new

fangled fibre optic cables. BT was the focus for all of this because it

was the telecoms player with the political inside track, and back then

it still had money coming out of its ears. It was also presumed that the

other main broadband contenders, the cable companies, would continue to

be relatively marginal players.



It hasn't quite worked out that way. The bad news is that BT never even

remotely looked like throwing billions at a whole new infrastructure,

and is now even less likely to do it given its recent financial

troubles.



The bad news also covers cable, which has also been slow in coming

forward.



But the good news is that BT has found a way of using its old fashioned

copper phone lines to deliver broadband anyway - we're talking about a

technology called ADSL. Never heard of it? Well, maybe you will when the

new BTopenworld campaign gets going. Banner ads have already broken on

the internet and the campaign will also involve cinema, print, outdoor

and TV executions (the TV work breaks on 8 October), courtesy of Abbott

Mead Vickers BBDO.



This is the first campaign since BT restructured its internet service

provider businesses and relocated them under BTopenworld, which was

previously just about broadband.



Duncan Ingram, the senior vice-president of BTopenworld, says the

campaign is principally about BT's ISP services, not necessarily about

delivery technologies.



"We've gone through a fundamental shift in approach. We've consolidated

a lot of businesses and services, rationalised a lot of different

dial-up services and changed the emphasis to unmetered access.

Previously, BT was one of the smaller players in the ISP market. It's

now number two overall, but number one in unmetered access," Ingram

says.



BT has been tweaking many aspects of its ISP model. Previously, in

common with other providers, it attempted to create portals that would

keep customers on its turf for as long as possible. Now it doesn't

believe in this "prison garden" approach and wants to be mainly a launch

pad, which obviously impacts on its attitude to content. It still offers

content, but the content will have to stand on its own feet commercially

- it won't be underwritten by the main ISP operation and it won't be

imposed on users.



For many in the market, broadband is the only long-term issue. The BT

campaign will, of course, be punting this - and will tie-in with an

attractive pricing initiative. But will it fill broadband freaks in the

ad market with renewed hope?



James Harris, the planning director at Carat Interactive, isn't certain.

He still thinks cable is the main game.



"The reason broadband has been slow is down to infrastructure," he

explains.



"It's about network coverage and about ntl and Telewest getting into

more homes. ADSL will not be the best broadband technology in the future

- cable offers one pipe into the home giving you television, phone and

the internet. With ADSL you still need a separate line and the further

you are from a telephone exchange, the slower it gets."



With ntl as a client, he would say that, wouldn't he? But just how

important is broadband anyway? Isn't this just yet another digital

chimera?



Not at all, Harris counters. "The opportunity with broadband is that

there will be increased convergence and there are then opportunities to

enhance the media experience for consumers. Even from the point of view

of the internet, offering it has massive implications for what you can

offer. You can do the equivalent of streaming TV ads on to web pages and

the fact that you are always online has implications too. You can act as

a push rather than a pull advertiser."



Andrew Lowe, a director at the interactive TV consultancy Enhance TV,

thinks ADSL will have impact on cable companies.



"The ADSL approach is a good one," he says. "What it comes down to is

that if you have loads of bandwidth, you can deliver fantastically

compelling content to the consumer. If you have that, and a return path

that's always on, you have something that advertisers will find very

compelling."



ADSL, Ingram reveals, is already available to areas covering 70 per cent

of the consumer market and 75 per cent of the business market. He

already has 45,000 customers, largely domestic users. So, is it all

systems go for broadband? Ingram is cautious.



"From our perspective it's a demand issue, not a supply issue," he

concludes. "And I think we all recognise the importance of getting the

price down. In most countries where there's significant broadband

take-up, there tends to be an element of government help - and remember

in this country we have dial-up unmetered access, which you don't find

elsewhere. It's important to realise too that ADSL is a better

technology than the cable modem and we're now getting on with it. It's

easy to stand on the sidelines and carp, but we're the ones who are

actually doing what we can. That said, I think it's true that in five

years, the majority of internet users will still be narrowband."



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