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