BT lays down the law for rural broadband

If you want DSL - get a petition organised...

If you want DSL - get a petition organised...

BT Wholesale has said it will only upgrade further rural exchanges to broadband if sufficient numbers of customers pre-order the service. BT Wholesale says in principle it will upgrade any of its telephone exchanges to provide ADSL broadband, but only if enough customers sign up in advance to make the service economically viable from the outset. The number of customers depends on the size of an exchange and the cost of upgrading it, but BT effectively needs to be able to guarantee that an exchange will be profitable before it agrees to upgrade it. BT is marketing the scheme as a triumph for customer power, claiming that it gives customers "a powerful influence over broadband rollout". However, that influence only comes from the customer's wallet. Financial prudence and cutting capital expenditure are articles of faith at the new BT - this move allows the company to now claim to be putting its weight fully behind rural broadband while cutting its commercial risk to almost zero. BT won't have to take the risk of connecting anyone unless they are guaranteed to make money from it. Even marketing the new scheme seems like too much effort for BT Wholesale. Its marketing plans currently consist of no more than a batch of targeted news releases to the local press. Broadband analyst Lars Godell said: "This policy doesn't score [telecoms companies] any goodwill, but it makes sense in the existing financial climate. "This is quite like what Telenor has done in Norway. I have seen examples of villages that have clubbed together to get enough signatures." It is in fact a minimal approach to providing rural broadband, he said. "It's not very nice for rural areas. It pushes the ball back into the court of the politicians and regulators. If they want a Broadband Britain, maybe they should put their money where their mouth is and start looking at subsidies." BT's scheme will cover more than 300 exchanges from its launch on 1 July, and extend to a total of 900 by the end of the year. If they all receive enough interest, it could bring the total of broadband-enabled exchanges above 2000, serving more than 80 per cent of UK households. BT plans to roll the scheme out of every exchange in the country in due course, a spokesman said. Users can sign up without making a financial commitment, in the process adding themselves to a marketing database that will be made available to all ISPs for free on an equal basis. However, once the number of people expressing interest passes the pre-determined trigger point, ISPs will have 42 days to turn the expressions of interest into confirmed pre-orders. BT will then include the exchange in its ADSL build programme.