Happy ending to rural broadband fiasco

One of Britain's broadband black spots will soon vanish, after BT decided not to make a wireless operator wait an extra six months for a vital high-speed link

Businesses and consumers in parts of rural Norfolk can finally look forward to getting high-speed wireless Internet, after the conclusion of a row that brought BT's integrity into question.

Wireless broadband provider West Norfolk Community Broadband (WNCB) learned earlier this week that the two backhaul connections that it had ordered, and which BT was failing to install, would both be fitted by Wednesday.

Previously, WNCB had been told it could be forced to wait until May 2004 before both links were fitted -- six months later than the original installation dates of mid-December 2003.

BT currently doesn't offer broadband in some of the places targeted by WNCB, but is expected to start offering ADSL services from exchanges in the area during the coming months. The trouble experienced by WNCB had led to speculation that Britain's incumbent telco might have deliberately engineered the delays -- a charge that BT has denied.

Will Newman, operations director of Dark Side Technologies -- the company responsible for setting up and running the WNCB network -- is delighted that he finally has the chance to provide high-speed Internet services.

"I am still reeling from this amazing change in fortunes. I am not sure exactly what triggered BT to finally react, but suffice to say that we will finally be able to deliver on our promises to our customers," Newman told ZDNet UK.

WNCB are at least the second wireless provider to experience problems when attempting to buy high-speed backhaul links from BT recently. FDM Broadband suffered a series of hitches late last year, with some links delivered late and others failing to work for days at a time.

Despite BT having apologised, and having denied that there was any intent behind these difficulties, some rural broadband activists remain suspicious. Both WNCB and FDM Broadband have complained to Ofcom about BT's actions, and it's likely that any other company that is unfortunate enough to experience similar problems in the future will do the same.