As regular readers of this column will know only too well, a subject that has drawn my wrath on a number of occasions is the stultifying effect BT has had on the roll out of ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) broadband technology in this country.
It has achieved this in two ways. First, the process of installing ADSL at home has been too intrusive, involving a visit by BT engineers to carry out the work. Secondly, the pricing for ADSL has ensured that it has remained something of a niche market, rather than becoming the standard way for home users to connect.
The first of these problems has been dealt with through the introduction of "wires-only" services. With a wires-only service, BT carries out all the necessary work at the exchange, while the user is responsible for buying an ADSL modem or router and completing local tasks such as installing microfilters to separate the ADSL signal from the ordinary phone line.
Wires-only services have brought some much-needed flexibility into the ADSL picture. On the plus side, they allow users to choose exactly what hardware and software to use. On the downside, users have to deal with problems relating to their telephone wiring.
The final obstacle to widespread ADSL adoption was the price barrier. As the figures from analyst firm Point-Topic show, BT's wholesale prices were far greater than those available in the rest of Europe.
Much of the credit for removing this final obstacle must be given to the ISP Pipex. At the end of January it announced that it was creating a £2m fund to cover the set-up fee for ADSL, which normally cost £58.753. It also introduced a basic ADSL subscription rate of £29.95. This was reduced to £24.99 at the beginning of February, with the result that Pipex started signing people up at the rate of 300 new connections a day.
Quite what effect this had on BT's plans is unclear, but it is striking that just a couple of weeks later BT announced some major cuts in its wholesale pricing. Even industry regulator Oftel seemed happy with news.
Pipex responded to BT's move with yet lower prices - less than £20 per month for its basic service. This level was soon matched by other ISPs. As figures on the ADSLguide site show, prices for business ADSL services have also been reduced by many ISPs.
ADSLguide is probably the best place to keep up with ADSL's rapidly changing landscape. As well as news, the site offers an excellent series of FAQs, including one on the wires-only service. Perhaps even more valuable for garnering the latest information, rumours and opinions from people who are actually installing and using ADSL are ADSLguide's Web-based message forums.
The comments on these forums make it clear that ADSL is finally happening. Not only is there a palpable excitement among current and potential users that has long been absent from the ADSL world, but it seems that suppliers are really making an effort.
Reading through the ADSLguide forums for the various ISPs - there are more than 50 of them - you find, alongside the inevitable gripes about things not working or turning up late, a surprising number of satisfied customers, many praising their suppliers for actually activating their ADSL connections early.
Extraordinarily, there is even occasional praise for BT. Indeed, it seems that by limiting its intervention to the appropriate realm - that of the exchanges - and letting users and third-party suppliers deal with the rest, the ADSL bottleneck that has throttled broadband roll out in this country has been cleared. At last, the UK's ADSL era has arrived.
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