A select committee of MPs set up to examine the progress of high-speed Internet roll-out across Britain yesterday heard evidence from major Net providers and watchdogs about broadband in Britain.

BT told the inquiry that fewer restrictions are necessary in order to create a "21st Century" high-speed Net – "essential if the UK is to remain competitive in the future".

In a statement the company said: "Too many broadband experts in BT are spending too much time dealing with detailed regulatory inquiries instead of making broadband available to more customers and creating and delivering innovative new services."

But the Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA) argued that has more regulation is needed to ensure fair competition.

The industry is currently regulated by Oftel, but its role will be taken over by Ofcom in December. According to the BBC, BT said it hoped the new body would usher in a different, more flexible approach that would encourage innovation and investment in broadband.

Oftel told the committee that there were now 2.6 million broadband connections in the country, with more than 30,000 new connections a week, making Britain the second-largest and fastest-growing broadband market in Europe.


However, MPs were told a more proactive approach from the public sector was necessary to help drive broadband into rural areas.

This recommendation coincides with a plea from ecommerce minister Stephen Timms who has called on broadband Internet providers to hasten its introduction across the country.

Mr Timms, told The Guardian he wanted broadband internet access across the whole of the UK by the end of 2005. At present, about 80 per cent of the country has access

A spokesman for BT told the committee that the company was on course to make broadband available to 90 per cent of the population by the end of 2004.

Groups in the Welsh towns of Welshpool and Machynlleth say that lack of broadband is a business disadvantage. They have started a campaign to get improved Internet access in two rural towns.

John Behnan from Machynlleth told the BBC: "Getting broadband is as important for the future of rural areas as trains were 150 years ago and roads were 50 years ago."

The Committee makes its final report on the effect of BT's rollout of ADSL and access to the market for retail broadband providers at the end of the year.