BT targets four-fifths of UK for broadband

BT will launch a Web-based registration scheme it hopes will speed up the rollout of ADSL into rural areas. But users will have to wait months to get service

BT confirmed on Tuesday that it is launching a service that will allowing businesses and consumers to register demand for broadband in a particular area, and will ADSL-enable local exchanges when a certain number is reached. As first reported by ZDNet UK yesterday, the Web-based broadband registration scheme -- which will start on 1 July -- should help to speed up the rollout of broadband across the UK. BT has broadband-enabled some 1,115 exchanges to date, enough to cover 66 percent of the UK population. It has been criticised for not upgrading more, but has claimed in the past that it doesn't believe it would be commercially viable to do so. The telco has now reviewed more than 300 local exchanges that don't offer broadband and calculated how many people would need to register for broadband for an upgrade to be economically justified. The number of registered users needed varies between exchanges, but according to BT is it between 200 and 500 registrations. BT said it had created the scheme in response to the complaints it has received from people whose local exchanges have not been ADSL-enabled. "This exciting new scheme gives us the means to bring broadband Britain to every community where it is commercially viable. It will act as a true barometer of demand," said Paul Reynolds, BT Wholesale chief executive, in a statement. "People have been claiming that there is sufficient demand for broadband in their areas if only they had a way to channel their interest to us. Now we have created just such a scheme," Reynolds added. BT said back in April it had begun reviewing 500 local exchanges to see if it could justify upgrading them for ADSL. The "more than 300" exchanges included in this new scheme are some of those 500. Target levels for the remaining exchanges, plus another 400, will be released by BT between July and September. According to BT's figures, if all the 900 exchanges were broadband-enabled then its ADSL network would cover 80 percent of the population. But BT warns that people still won't be able to get ADSL if they live more than 5.5km from their local exchange, or if their phone line is not of suitable quality. Mixed reaction
The early reaction to BT's scheme has been mixed, with some users of Web forums expressing concerns over the length of time it might take before any of the exchanges in the scheme are actually upgraded. Once the threshold level has been reached for a particular exchange, BT has said it will inform ISPs, who will then have 42 days to convert these registrations into actual advance orders. As long as enough registered users are converted, BT will then add the exchange to its "build programme for ADSL deployment". This process could easily take at least three months, even after enough registrations have been gathered. Other reaction has been more positive, with UK ISP Pipex predicting that the scheme might allow it to sell broadband to people who have tried to sign up before but found that their local exchange wasn't enabled. "We have details of many potential broadband customers in areas not currently served by ADSL, including many of our dial-up Internet customers who have expressed an interest in broadband," said David Rickards, managing director of Pipex. "This registration initiative opens up further opportunities for us to realise the business potential of this customer data." As a commercial company, BT says it cannot be expected to upgrade exchanges where it genuinely believes there is not sufficient broadband demand, so this scheme should at least give a true indication of the level of interest in high-speed Internet services across the UK.

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