Communications regulator Ofcom has reported that about two-thirds of UK households now have broadband internet connections.

It found that 3 million households signed up for broadband during 2006 and the average speed of internet connections has risen from 3.6Mbit per second in 2006 to 4.6Mbit per second by June 2007.

For retailers, this should offer encouragement that an increasing number of consumers are able to handle the more complex media-rich web sites and online services that they are beginning to deliver.

Ofcom said that cable operator Virgin Media and BT are upgrading their networks, allowing consumers to receive internet connection speeds of up to 20Mbit per second and 24Mbit per second respectively.

Theoretically, it takes one second to download a 250KB web page using a 2Mbit per second internet connection. This would fall to just 0.1 seconds with a 24Mbit per second connection.

Retailers that sell digital music and other content will benefit even more. It takes 20 seconds to download a 5MB music file using a 2Mbit per second connection, but it would take only two seconds if customers connected to the internet at the faster speed.

In July, the UK’s online population reached its highest ever figure, with 31.8 million unique visitors, according to market researcher ComScore.