The growth of broadband Internet is accelerating, reports the UN-backed International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The number of global broadband subscribers grew 72 per cent in 2002 says the ITU, with the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong and Canada leading the way. Korea has 21 broadband subscribers for every 100 inhabitants, and one in ten Internet users worldwide has a dedicated broadband connection, the organization claims.

ITU head of the strategy and policy unit Dr. Tim Kelly said: "Broadband is arriving at a time when the revolutionary potential of the Internet has still to be fully tapped. However, while broadband is accelerating the integration of the Internet into our daily lives, it is not a major industry driver in the same way that mobile cellular and the Internet were in the 1990s. It's an incremental improvement, offering Internet access that is faster, more convenient and cheaper than ever before."

Kelly added: "The group's early evidence suggests that broadband access may help fuel consumer spending. There's a positive relationship between broadband penetration and monthly spending on communications services." Countries with high degrees of broadband penetration have above average levels of consumer telecoms spending, the report claims.

"The boom was driven by the expectation that the Internet would create a large market for electronic commerce, on-demand content, and online applications," said Kelly. "Broadband brings this expectation one step closer to reality by offering faster speeds and a better platform for the development of content services. In other words, the reality is finally starting to catch up with the market hype."

The ITU also reports that wireless broadband solutions are being rolled out in developing countries, as a cheaper way to get remote areas connected to telecommunications services than installing a fixed-line infrastructure.

"Around the world, access to knowledge and information is quickly becoming the major driver of growth and development," said Kelly. "Broadband will help accelerate this process by enabling multiple applications across a single network, bringing down prices and radically changing the economics of access."