BT: Broadband coverage no longer the big issue

Telcos and the public sector must stimulate demand for broadband, rather than worry about the number of people able to access the service, says the UK's incumbent telco

Boosting broadband take-up, rather than extending coverage, has become the top priority in the ongoing challenge of creating Broadband Britain, according to BT.

With well over 80 percent of homes and business able to access a high-speed connection via BT's ADSL network -- a figure that should rise to nearly 100 percent by the end of next year -- there needs to be greater emphasis on getting customers to sign up, according to Patricia Vaz, BT's regional director for south-east England.

Addressing an audience of local government and regional development organisations in London on Thursday, Vaz said telcos shouldn't simply build high-speed networks and assume that people will turn up and use them. "Broadband's footprint is not the issue any more," said Vaz. "BT will achieve our target of making broadband available to 97.5 percent of the population by the end of 2005. The big issue is take-up. In the south-east, for example, broadband take-up is only nine percent," Vaz said.

Back in November 2003, BT set thousands more of its broadband trigger levels for areas where ADSL is not currently available. BT expects that they will all be achieved before the end of 2005 -- which would push coverage up to the 97.5-percent level.

Vaz said that broadband take-up would increase if people were made more aware of the applications and services possible over broadband -- from music and video content and online gaming to instant messaging and Voice over IP services.

"We need to persuade people that spending £1 a day on a broadband connection can have a radical change in the efficiency of their business, or in the efficiency of their lives," said Vaz. "If we are too slow to tell people of the benefits, then we're missing a trick," she added, urging the public sector to encourage businesses and individuals to embrace broadband.

But for those people who want broadband but can't get access via ADSL, cable, satellite or wireless, coverage will always be a major issue. BT hasn't set trigger levels for about 600 of its most remote local exchanges, as it believes the cost of upgrading them is too great to be economically viable.

The technical limitations of ADSL mean that anyone living more than 6km from their local exchange can't get the technology even if it's available -- a problem that affects up to 4 percent of people in broadband-enabled regions.