BT defines the broadband divide

The telco has set out the path to 90 percent ADSL coverage for the UK - good news for 500 local areas, but pretty grim for others

BT has identified more parts of the UK where it expects to begin offering high-speed Internet access in the next couple of years, effectively setting the boundaries of Britain's broadband divide.

The telco announced on Thursday that it has set a further 500 trigger levels for local exchanges that aren't currently ADSL-enabled, taking the number of exchanges with such triggers to 799.

These triggers are a measure of how many people in each area have to express an interested in getting broadband before the telco will upgrade the local exchange. Many of the latest triggers have been set at 150 or 200 -- levels that have been achieved at other exchanges where communities have worked to drive interest in broadband.

Other triggers levels set on Thursday are as high as 500. Fifty-six of the exchanges have been given triggers that are lower than the number of people who have already signed up using BT's registration scheme, so they will now be added to BT's ADSL rollout programme.

BT's existing ADSL network covers roughly 72 percent of the UK population. If all 799 trigger levels are hit, then ADSL will be available to nine out in ten of Britain's homes and businesses.

"We're keeping our foot on the throttle by identifying new developments to increase the number of towns and villages within reach of broadband, and push up the numbers of people choosing to sign up for broadband services," said Bruce Stanford, director of products at BT Wholesale, in a statement.

"Our people have worked hard to identify innovative ways of bringing broadband commercially to areas where local geography and historical evolution of the network have made the challenges all the harder. Their perseverance has paid off and now we're in a position where, if the demand is there, we can bring ADSL broadband to 90 per cent of the UK," Stanford added.

BT's announcement is not good news for everyone, though, as the company is unlikely to set many more trigger levels. "With current technology, it's hard to get more than 90 percent coverage with DSL," a BT Wholesale spokesman told ZDNet UK.

BT has been able to cut trigger levels in the past, when greater-than-expected take-up has meant the company could justify spending more money upgrading an exchange.

However, although hardware costs have also fallen, the main expense is backhaul -- installing a high-speed connection from the exchange to BT's core network.

"We are not ruling out setting more trigger levels in the future, and we'll reassess the situation at any exchange where we see plenty of demand," the BT Wholesale spokesman added.

This week's Rural and Regional Broadband conference heard evidence that wireless is the best technology for remote areas where ADSL and cable broadband aren't economically viable.

"Many communities will never be able to get DSL. This was clearly acknowledged at yesterday's ABC event, where realism was the order of the day," said Rob Mortimer, UK sales director for Alvarion, and a speaker at the conference.

"Providing broadband into rural areas is not high on the list of priorities of any operator as it will never be a big money spinner. Communities therefore need to look inwardly for broadband solutions," explained Mortimer, adding that Alvarion is seeing "huge interest" in its community wireless-broadband packages.

BT insists, though, that it is not slamming the door on people whose local exchange doesn't have a trigger. It points to its recent mesh-radio trial, its activate project -- which has created DSL hardware designed for small communities -- and the successful ACTNow programme in Cornwall, as evidence that it is looking to push boundaries further.

Click here to see the list of 500 trigger levels announced on Thursday.

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