Most people would agree that having a fast connection to the internet makes life just that little bit easier. With a decent connection, you need not boil the kettle every time you want to check your email.

But the simplicity of this proposition belies the intensity of the debate currently raging in Britain about the future of fast internet access – or broadband as it’s known. Broadband advocates say it has the potential to give access to an almost limitless wealth of information and commerce opportunities.

Since modern economies live or die on how well educated and informed their populations are, broadband has turned into a talisman over which government, telecoms companies and the media are fighting tooth and nail.

Last month the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, addressing a specially convened “e-summit” in London, unveiled a new report from the Office of the e-Envoy. This claimed that Britain was second only to the United States as an environment in which to conduct e-commerce.

As an initiative to accelerate Britain’s “e-development”, the government will spend more than