Internet map reveals the broadband divide

There is still a significant divide between the Internet haves and have-nots across England and Wales, according to a new map which charts Web access across the two countries.

Point Topic, a consultancy that specialises in Internet issues, has analysed take-up of high-speed broadband Internet services and mapped its results along constituency lines.

"There are two digital divides in England and Wales," explained Point Topic's founder Tim Johnson, "a geographic one and a social one. The geographic divide is closing fast but the more serious issue is the social digital divide."

Point Topic's research shows that in affluent urban areas - such as north London - where broadband is available through BT's phone lines and cable networks Telewest and NTL, up to a third of households have broadband. In poorer areas fewer than 10% have broadband.

As Internet access is increasingly used in education these areas risk being left behind in the push for a "knowledge economy".

The research also shows an age gap, with only 8.8% of households headed by someone who is 75 or older having any form of Internet access.

The divide is perhaps most severe in Wales. The central and north Cardiff constituencies have the highest penetration of broadband internet access at 37% of households, but seven of the 10 least wired constituencies in England and Wales are to be found in the principality.

Plaid Cymru's Adam Price, contesting one of the 10 worst supplied areas, Carmathen East and Dinefwr, as its incumbent MP, described the digital divide as "clearly very severe".

"Broadband is a prerequisite for a thriving economy in the 21st century," he added, saying the present government has failed to make use of technologies that would open up rural areas to broadband. Most rural parts of the country rely on BT's lines for broadband Internet access.

Last summer the company announced it would place broadband technology in most of its telephone exchanges, opening up high-speed Web access to more than 99% of Britain. However in some remote areas it is not economical to install broadband equipment.

A spokesman for the company said yesterday it is working on wireless solutions to help to bring broadband to areas without coverage, such as parts of Wales.

The Welsh assembly is also looking at obtaining funding to help remote parts of the country get wired-up.

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