BT plans universal broadband coverage

The telco wants to roll out wireless broadband across the UK - but only if it gets government funding

BT said its trials of radio broadband technology have gone so well, it is hoping to have rolled out a broadband service to 100 percent of the UK population by the end of 2005.

BT, which has been trialling the new technology in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, expects to be able to provide a 512Kbps and 1Mbps wireless ADSL connection at around the same price as its current broadband offerings.

However, Pierre Danon, BT Retail's chief executive, speaking at the Broadband Edge Conference in Cornwall on Thursday, said the 100 percent target could only be achieved with funding from regional development agencies. The company justifies asking for public assistance in bringing broadband to rural areas because the services help the local economy.

BT estimates that around 7 percent of the population of Cornwall has broadband access and this has resulted in an additional 1,200 jobs and boosted the local economy by £20m.

The move could mean trouble for smaller wireless operators such as West Norfolk Community Broadband (WNCB), who experienced problems initially setting up their service because BT wasn't interested in covering rural areas, and will now find themselves competing directly with the telco.

A BT spokesman told ZDNet UK: "These tiny providers generally provide a service to a small number of people. It wouldn't be our intention to push them out, but we are interested in providing a general service. We can't miss an area because some people have already got broadband through one of these smaller providers," he said.

Smaller companies say they are not worried about competition from BT, but say the telco shouldn't be able to rely on public funds.

Will Newman, operations director of Dark Side Technologies, a company responsible for setting up and running the WNCB network, said he isn't scared of BT because WNCB can offer a 2Mbps SDSL service at £25 per month. "I have no problem competing with BT, what I do have a problem with is that they seem to want to get hold of government money to compete."