Downing Street has moved to make it easier and cheaper for government departments, organisations and local authorities to buy broadband, and may have helped rural deployment in the process.
Six leading broadband providers - BT, Easynet, Fujitsu, Kingston, Synetrix and Telewest - have been chosen as preferred vendors for a new broadband framework.
The status enables them to bid to supply public sector broadband technology, and ancillary services such as centrally hosted applications, voice telephony and voice messaging.
"This new arrangement reduces the time and effort required in sourcing broadband products by offering quality goods and services at value for money prices without the need for separate tendering processes," said Peter Gershon, chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).
All providers had to meet strict criteria, which included operational performance and the ability to meet aggregated demand set by the OGC.
Technologies ranging from xDSL, cable modem, satellite, broadband, fixed wireless access, basic rate ISDN and/or similar successor services are covered.
Government agencies can still choose other providers but will have to use traditional competitive tendering processes which can be expensive and time consuming, according to the OGC.
NTL is not one of the providers because said it need clarification on "certain criteria". The cable firm said it would hold further discussions with the OGC and believed it had a strong case to be added to the approved list at a later date.
The framework could also boost rural broadband rollout. "Anything that speeds up the broadband procurement process and makes it cheaper for local authorities will help these initiatives," said Ian Fogg, an analyst with Jupiter Media.
Jill Ainscough, marketing director at Easynet, one of the approved suppliers, added: "Public sector investment will bring broadband to rural environments because it helps deal with the aggregated demand issue."
But Sir George Young, Conservative MP for North West Hampshire, is less optimistic.
"This does not deliver the Prime Minister's commitment that public sector deployment will help bring broadband to rural communities, homes and businesses. There is an inherent conflict," he said.
"From a national standpoint, all public use of broadband can and should be leveraged to facilitate wider personal and commercial access.
"But from the standpoint of each individual government department there's a narrow requirement to get value for money, to hit a particular date and to deploy technology in the way that best meets the specific need.
"Without very clear and strong direction from the Prime Minister, the situation is likely to remain messy."
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