BT slashes hundreds of broadband trigger levels

As the process of rolling out ADSL gets cheaper, BT needs less guaranteed local interest before opening its wallet and upgrading a telephone exchange

Twenty-two local communities will get their first taste of ADSL in April, following a revision by BT its broadband registration scheme.

BT said on Friday that it had lowered the level of customer interest needed at 388 exchanges in order for them to be upgraded to ADSL. It has also set trigger levels for 87 exchanges where previously none was set.

For 22 of these local exchanges, the new trigger levels are now actually lower than the amount of interest already registered by local people, so they have now been added to BT's ADSL build programme and should be upgraded in around three months' time.

By cutting these trigger levels, which in some cases were as high as 750 broadband pre-registrations, BT says it is speeding up the rollout of high-speed Internet across Britain -- a statement echoed by e-commerce minister Stephen Timms.

"The registration scheme has helped us guide investment in broadband to match demand," said Paul Reynolds, BT Wholesale chief executive.

"Our growing experience of the actual work involved now allows us to be confident in lowering many of the demand levels at which we will upgrade exchanges for broadband. This is another significant step in making broadband more widely available," Reynolds added.

BT launched its broadband pre-registration scheme back in June, setting out the number of customers it would need to be sure of attracting in each area before it was worth its while to spend money upgrading the local exchange.

Although the move was generally welcomed as an innovative method of bringing broadband to areas where there was genuine public demand, BT was criticised for the high trigger levels.

In cutting these trigger levels now, BT could be accused of a u-turn. Last September chief executive Ben Verwaayen firmly rejected the suggestion that the trigger levels should be lowered. "BT is not an institution with an obligation to bring technology to the UK. It is a business with obligations to shareholders," Verwaayen told journalists, adding that the company couldn't start changing the way it calculated the trigger levels.

The reason it has now managed to cut the trigger levels, BT explained on Friday, is that it has managed to reduce the cost of connecting exchanges to its main network.

"Since the scheme was launched, we're been consistently saying that we're looking at ways of cutting costs. We've managed to cut these trigger levels because we've achieved a reduction in the cost of re-engineering the backhaul, such as by using a different connection route or by activating fibre that wasn't in play before," a BT Wholesale spokesman told ZDNet UK News.

He added that the cost of broadband hardware is also falling, and that as BT upgrades more exchanges it is learning more about the process and how it can be conducted cheaper and more efficiently.

E-commerce minister Stephen Timms has welcomed BT's decision to lower its trigger levels, which he said would help to give everyone in the UK the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of new technology.

"I am delighted to hear that BT is lowering the trigger levels to upgrade their exchanges for broadband. This move will be widely welcomed and will play a vital role in opening up broadband access, and not just to a privileged few," said Timms.

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