Cable broadband nears the magic million

Together NTL and Telewest are ahead of BT in the broadband stakes, and could sign up more than one million customers by the end of April

The UK's two major cable companies are close to reaching a total of one million broadband customers, and look set to beat BT to this landmark by at least a couple of months, according to figures released by NTL on Monday. In its financial results, NTL stated that on 21 March it had 650,000 broadband cable modem customers. Around 133,000 of these users have signed up since the start of 2003, giving NTL a current take-up rate of around 12,000 new broadband customers per week. With fellow cable operator Telewest having around 300,000 broadband customers, the two companies can boast a total of some 950,000 high-speed Internet users. Reaching a combined total of million broadband users would give both firms a fillip, especially given their recent financial turmoil, and would emphasise their key role in the creation of Broadband Britain. At current sign-up rates -- Telewest is connecting "about a thousand new broadband customers each working day", according to a company spokesman -- this milestone should be shattered before the end of April. Whither BT?
BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen vowed last year that the telco would reach one million ADSL customers by the summer of 2003, and five million by 2006. Given the patchy state of Broadband Britain at the time, this was an ambitious target, but the telco seems to be on track. It announced last week that it had a total of 750,000 ADSL customers -- shared between all the ISPs that resell its wholesale broadband products. Take-up rate is understood to be between 20,000 and 25,000 per week, which if maintained would certainly lift Verwaayen's firm over the finishing line with ease. Some ISPs are speculating privately, though, that BT could soon be hit by a minor slump in orders as people begin to favour outdoor activities and decide to hold back from splashing out on broadband until after their summer holidays. The ending of its half-price activation fee offer might also lead to a decline in take-up. BT insisted, though, that it is still "absolutely" on track for one million users by this summer. And, having not set a specific date such as 30 June, it has some leeway if the one million target isn't hit until July.


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