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Surge in broadband links more homes to internet.

Byline: By Sion Barry Western Mail

Broadband has steamed ahead of dial-up as the most popular way of going online, new figures show.

The number of British households with internet access rose by 600,000 to 13.9m over the past year.

That means 57% of households can go online, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Nearly three-quarters (72.6%) connect to the internet via broadband - up from 54.4% last year and 18% in 2003.

The ONS data comes from a survey of internet service providers.

In Wales the figures show that the percentage of households with broadband increase from 27% to 32% on 2005 - the UK average is 40%.

The percentage of households with dial up internet access dropped from 27% to 22%. However, the percentage of households in Wales with no internet access increased by 2% to 48%. A number of other regions of the UK also experience a rise, with Scotland's up from 47% to 52% - the highest rate in the UK.

For the UK as a whole non access dropped from 45% to 42%.

Figures for Northern Ireland were provided for the first time this year. They bring the number of UK households with internet access to 14.3 million.

The annual ONS Internet Connectivity report started in 2001.

This year's report says, 'The market share of broadband connections has been increasing ever since the index began, reflecting its growing popularity, affordability and widespread availability.'

The ONS said all methods of going online - such as via PCs, laptops, televisions and mobile phones - were included in the 57% headline figure of households with internet access.

Phone company T-Mobile criticised the report for not including internet access via mobile phones as a separate category.

Moreover, broadband users will find it easier to switch service provider under new rules proposed.

Thousands of customers complained they had problems moving from one company to another, regulator Ofcom said.

The proposed regulations could prompt more users to seek out better deals in the fiercely competitive broadband market.

Millions of customers in the UK are already signed up to broadband - but thousands have had trouble changing provider.

Some broadband companies are slow to provide the Migration Authorisation Codes (MACs) which users need in order to change, Ofcom said.

In other cases, people moving house can't set up broadband because technical glitches wrongly show the building is already connected.

Ofcom's proposals would make it mandatory for companies to give MACs to customers on request.

Codes will be available from other sources if broadband companies are unable provide them.

Ofcom also wants the industry to sort out technical problems which prevent people switching when they move house.

A spokesman for the regulator said the vast majority of broadband users were able to easily switch provider.

But he said, 'There is evidence that people have got so fed up with waiting for this MAC which their provider is not supplying them with that they are just giving up and staying where they are.

'There is a lot of competition in the broadband market but if customers aren't able to exercise their choice then competition is of limited value.'

At present the broadband industry provides MACs to users under a voluntary scheme which Ofcom has no powers to investigate or enforce.

If the new regulations are brought in, the regulator will have powers to investigate and even fine companies which don't comply.

Ofcom's proposals are subject to a public consultation which closes in October.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 26, 2006
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