Government agencies are failing to consider how their broadband strategies could benefit the wider population in rural areas, according to a former Shadow Cabinet minister.
Earlier this week BT challenged rival providers to match its generation of public/private partnerships to roll out broadband in rural areas.
But Sir George Young, Conservative MP for North West Hampshire, warned that convincing some government departments and agencies to take part was easier said than done.
"There is a lack of any common understanding across government of how demand for broadband should be met," he said.
"A good example is the government's commitment to invest billions in broadband for the NHS and schools, and their repeated statements that this would help bring broadband to rural communities.
"Two weeks ago in the House of Commons, Department of Trade and Industry minister Stephen Timms admitted that he is still desperately negotiating with the Health and Education Departments, trying to get them to consider the wider public benefit of their broadband deployment plans."
Sir George welcomed BT's move, but said the government's central strategy failed to address critical issues.
"The government talks of 'Broadband Britain' and, as always, announces and reannounces many 'initiatives'.
"The reality is that we have no real strategy to get ADSL levels of price-performance to people and small firms in the countryside or to those who are simply out of range for ADSL even in the suburbs."
When ministers have been pressed on the rural issue they have tended to fall back on options such as satellite, which is suitable only for a very few people, and wireless, where Sir George criticised the government's approach to spectrum licensing as "a stumbling block rather than a positive enabler".
Reaction to BT's challenge has met with a muted response from other broadband providers.
Internet service provider FairADSL said it considered itself a partner rather than a rival, and that it hoped to build relationships with BT and others, while the cable companies pointed to the work they were already doing in education and health.
Chad Raube, director of internet services at Telewest Broadband, said: "We are always supportive of any new initiative that assists the take-up of broadband services in the UK.
"We were, however, instrumental in laying the foundations for Broadband Britain long before BT decided to show up".
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