BT urged to get broadband rollout moving again

ISPs are being overwhelmed with demand, but they are not happy about having to turn customers away because their exchanges aren't ADSL-enabled

Now that BT has managed to cut the cost of its broadband services, the telco is being urged to upgrade more of its local exchanges so that ADSL will be available to a greater percentage of the UK population.

The substantial price cuts in the cost of BT's wholesale broadband products was great news for the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who sell ADSL services to businesses and consumers. Some say they have seen demand increase by over 1000 percent.

Many potential customers, though, are being disappointed because their local exchange isn't ADSL-enabled. ISPs, who are having to turn orders away, would like to see BT rolling out broadband to many more than the current 1,000 or so local exchanges that have been ADSL-enabled to date. There are about 5,500 local exchanges in the UK.

Alistair Wyse, technical director of PlusNet, told ZDNet UK News that many people who live in more rural areas aren't able to take advantage of broadband.

"The main benefits of ADSL, high speed always-on Internet access, make it ideal for the growing teleworking community. Unfortunately many cannot get the service due to its availability being mainly based around central business districts. Until BT expands its coverage, the people most likely to require and use the service will still be left frustrated," Wyse said.

BT's commercial rollout of ADSL currently covers around 60 percent of homes and 70 percent of Internet users, and the telco believes that it simply isn't commercially viable to bring ADSL to less-populated rural areas where there are much fewer potential customers than in a town or city.

The word from some ISPs, though, is that there is plenty of pent-up demand in those areas without ADSL.

One ISP has told ZDNet UK privately that it is unconvinced by BT's claim to cover 60 percent of homes, given the high number of its customers that it is turning away because they cannot get ADSL.

In response, BT insisted that the 60 percent coverage figure was "a fact".

"We're working with ISPs and regional development agencies to identify areas of high broadband demand," a BT spokesman told ZDNet UK. "We certainly welcome any feedback from ISPs as to where they think we should roll out ADSL."

BT suspended its ADSL rollout back in November 2001 after covering just over 1,000 exchanges. Since then it has announced plans to upgrade a number of exchanges in Cornwall in partnership with regional development agencies.

Given its previous comments on commercial viability, it seems that BT will only be able to extend its ADSL coverage once it has seen an increase in demand for broadband.

Its wholesale price cuts could be an important step in this process. "We've seen demand for ADSL increase tenfold, if not more, since the new lower prices came into effect," said Ian Buckley, marketing manager at Zen Internet.

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