BT's broadband push leaves rivals stranded

Competition in the UK broadband market may be taking a beating, now that BT is making ADSL available to almost the whole country

BT's decision to ditch its trigger-level scheme and make broadband available almost universally across Britain appears to be good news for consumers and businesses. However, BT's changing broadband policies have been tough on smaller rivals such as Everywhere Broadband, Radiant Networks and community groups.

On Thursday, Everywhere Broadband announced that it has pulled the proposed launch of its satellite broadband service, which was due to take place on 10 May.

The company had been planning to offer high-speed Internet access over satellite in areas where neither BT's ADSL network nor cable broadband are available. Eighteen months ago, when its plans were first reported, large swathes of Britain couldn't get access to broadband.

But the situation today is very different, now that BT has declared that it will make available ADSL from another 1,128 exchanges by mid-2005, giving 99.6 percent of households and commercial premises access to broadband. Previously, hundreds of people in each local community have had to register their interest in BT before it could become available.

Faced with the impact that BT's plans will have on its target market, Everywhere Broadband senior executives are now assessing what, if anything, their new business model will be.

The company isn't talking to the media, but it's understood that BT's change of heart over its trigger-level scheme may have severe implications for Everywhere Broadband.

BT, though, says that it is acting in the best interests of Broadband Britain.

"BT is determined to help the UK become a world leader for broadband availability and we've been acting to support that determination for some time now. The plans for near-universal availability of broadband are good news for the country and a testament to the endeavours of local campaigners," said a BT spokesman.

Other companies, though, appear to be suffering because of BT's recent enthusiasm for ADSL rollout.

Radiant Networks, a pioneer in mesh broadband technology, went into administration at the end of last year.

And local activists aren't all delighted by BT's rollout plans. Some groups have spent many months planning community broadband initiatives, only to find that BT had suddenly announced that a previously unviable exchange is now suitable for broadband. This has led to cynicism that the telco may be deliberately blocking the competition.

As ZDNet UK reported last year, a pioneering wireless broadband project in the North Downs of Kent was brought to a halt once the area it was targeting was given a clutch of trigger levels.

"We've been working for three months on a project to offer wireless in four areas where ADSL isn't available. It looked like it was going well, but BT has thrown a spanner in the works, just at the right time for them, as we were reaching for the money," Mike Leadbetter, one of the people driving the Broadband4TheDowns campaign, said last year.

Broadband4TheDowns were planning to offer much more than just standard broadband connectivity. This would have included a community file server, outdoor Webcams to improve local security, and bandwidth management across the community.