Broadband Britain's milestones shattered

Universal availability of high-speed Internet services is getting closer, as both BT and the cable companies see their broadband business expand

BT's broadband services are now available to 90 percent of the population, which represents a significant marker in the drive to make high-speed Internet services universally available in the UK.

The telco announced on Wednesday that it has now upgraded a total of 2,652 local telephone exchanges to offer its ADSL product. Although this is only around a half of all its exchanges, it's enough to reach all but 10 percent of its telephony customers.

After suffering years of criticism over its approach to broadband, BT is keen to trumpet that it is now outperforming most of the rest of the world, according to figures published last week by the OECD.

"BT has put the UK at 90 percent ADSL coverage today with our closest competitor countries in the G7 aiming for this level by the end of 2004," said BT Wholesale chief executive Paul Reynolds.

"By that stage we'll be past 95 percent and well on the way to topping 99 percent by summer 2005."

BT has already warned that around 560 local exchanges are unlikely to ever offer ADSL, because they are too remote and serve too few people for an upgrade to be economically viable. Other technologies, such as wireless, could be more suitable for these places, many of which are in Scotland.

At 90 percent, BT's broadband network now covers twice as many businesses and homes as its main rivals, NTL and Telewest, combined. But the two cable companies are also enjoying broadband success.

Telewest said on Wednesday that it had signed up its 500,000th broadband customer. This compares to BT's estimated 2.4 million wholesale ADSL customers.

The lucky Telewest customer in question is Serena Davies of Bristol. She signed up for Telewest's 256Kbps product, but is being upgraded to a 3Mbps service for a year.