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2005 - the year Broadband came to town

January 2006

2005 was the year that broadband came to town (and, at last, country). Most telephone exchanges have been re-equipped so that they can provide it to most of us, at some level. The pace has been feverish, to say the least; broadband now makes up 57% of all connections in the UK, whereas twelve months ago it was only 29% (

One reason for this terrific growth is that broadband really does transform your experience of the internet, even at the most basic level such as I have out here in the wilds of East Anglia. If all you do is send and receive emails, then you might happily continue with dial-up, but if you are trying to look at websites at all seriously, or use the internet for work, I'm afraid that broadband really is the only way to do it.

Sites are increasingly being designed on the assumption that the viewer has a fast connection, and include such gizmos as short films, or complicated interactive bits that are next to impossible to use on a dial up connection. Google Maps ( ) is an excellent example - a brilliant site but hopeless on dialup.

Broadband isn't cheap. Prices start at about £15 per month, but if you are spending anything like that amount on your dialup access (probably 20 minutes a day or so if you are using an 0845 number) you should sign up. Also remember that Broadband does not tie up your phone whilst you are surfing, which can save a lot of family strife.

The good news is that the price is falling. The bad news is that there are a huge number of competing companies, and they have all developed a dose of telephone-charging-itis. In other words, it is rapidly becoming as difficult to work out who offers the best broadband deal as it is to work out who offers the best phone deal, a feat which is already beyond all but the most dedicated spreadsheet enthusiasts. The marketplace is heaving with discounts, introductory offers and linked promotions; comparing like with like is next to impossible.

So what to do? Initially, don't try too hard. Ask your existing ISP what sort of deal they offer and if it seems within touching distance of big names like Tiscali ( or BT ( then go with them for the shortest period they will allow and get to know the whole business. Otherwise go with a name you trust, again for the shortest possible period. You should review the deal you have on a regular basis anyway, as the market is changing so fast.

The cheaper deals often monitor how much information flows to and from your computer, and try to charge accordingly, so you need a package that is likely to provide enough capacity without incurring extra fees. However, unless you are online all day every day, the cheapest deal that your ISP offers will probably suffice. Word on the street is that they are not too hot at monitoring usage anyway, but don't rely on that - it's only a rumour.

In any event, the worst that can happen is that they will be in touch and ask you to move to a more expensive plan - but sure as eggs is eggs they won't come to you and suggest moving to a cheaper one.

Finally, unless you know about these things, get some help to install it. It is not something for the fainthearted to undertake, or at least not without involving a technically minded friend or grandchild to help you. There will be new software and some new widgets and wires to deal with, but once it's set up, I promise that it will be a revelation.

I am always pleased to hear from readers.


Webster’s Webwatch Huge collection of early C20th photos which you can search by postcode and buy copies. Excellent new database of UK based charities. Site set up by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, mother of Hugh, and author of The Good Granny Guide.