The government has proposed plans to take broadband Internet to remote and economically hard-hit rural areas of the UK, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) announced in Parliament on Tuesday.

As part of the white paper "A Fair Deal for Rural England", published on Tuesday, the government laid out plans for "stimulating wider broadband coverage to make high-speed Internet access and business-data transfer available in more rural areas".

The government plans to connect all rural schools to the Internet by 2002, and will establish 100 Internet-access points across rural areas in post offices and Internet kiosks. The kiosks will be created through a £15 million "community service fund".

Stimulate industry The white paper reads: "The Government will stimulate and promote industry investment in higher-bandwidth services, so that as many people as possible can get faster access to the Internet and other information services. But the market alone will not deliver affordable high-speed connections to all rural areas."

Tim Johnson, principle analyst for market research company Ovum, said: "The UK is definitely behind the rest of Europe in terms of getting onto broadband, at least by six months."

Neil Rickard, research director of networking for Gartner Group, believes the government has not been pro-active enough in pushing the development of new technology in urban or rural areas. He said: "The UK is now behind Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark in broadband-Internet access, which is not how it used to be. The UK totally liberalized the telecommunications market - voice and data - before everyone else in Europe."

Specifically, Rickard pointed to the government's efforts to force its former monopoly BT to unbundle the local loop network. Oftel has given BT a deadline of July 2001 to unbundle the local loop even though the European Parliament said in October this year that unbundled services should be available in all of the European Union by January 2001.