BT: Regulators hold back universal broadband

BT wants the whole UK population to have broadband, but it says it can't do it alone

It will be virtually impossible for broadband to penetrate 100 percent of the European population unless regulators are willing to reward risk-takers, according to BT's chief executive Ben Verwaayen.

Verwaayen, speaking at the Carriers World Europe show in London on Wednesday, said that industry regulators in Europe are not thinking "out of the box" and have not realised that narrowband and dial-up services are fundamentally different to broadband: "Regulators are at home in a narrowband environment and in many ways, they view broadband as just another narrowband product. But broadband is not just another product or an addition to what we have, it is a totally new type of customer experience," he said.

In July, BT added a further 500 rural areas to its broadband trigger level scheme, where the company asks people interested in high-speed Internet access to sign up on its Web site. If enough people express an interest, BT upgrades the local exchange so it can supply DSL services. The most recent increase means 90 percent of the UK population could have DSL eventually, but that still leaves large broadband blackspots.

Verwaayen insisted that the final 10 percent of the population will not be able to enjoy broadband services without either public funding or a relaxation of regulations set out by Oftel and other European bodies. "It will be almost impossible to make the investments to take broadband to the last 10 percent, but that is unacceptable -- we have to get broadband to 100 percent of Europe," he said.

Verwaayen feels that BT is being punished by the regulators for being successful: "There is a tendency in Europe to say if you are big, there is some suspicion of you. If you are big and successful, the suspicion doubles. I want to have acknowledgement that broadband is a different environment to narrowband. This is not about the big ugly incumbent holding on -- that is the wrong picture," he added.

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