Hundreds of exchanges fail BT trigger test

The telco is breaking the bad news to areas where it says there just aren't enough residents to justify ADSL rollout

BT said this week that it cannot set achievable broadband trigger levels for 322 local telephone exchanges across rural Britain.

After examining these local exchanges and assessing the cost of ADSL-enabling them, the telco has calculated that there aren't enough potential broadband users in each area to justify the expense of an upgrade.

BT insists that it isn't saying that these local exchanges are permanently unviable for broadband, and that it may award trigger levels in the future. It's possible, though, that community activists may step into the breach to help provide broadband in the areas affected.

Trigger levels are a measure of how many people in one area must want to get broadband before BT considers it economical to upgrade the exchange. They vary between exchanges, depending on the state of the network and the cost of adding extra space to accommodate the broadband kit. BT explained on Thursday that at these 322 exchanges there just aren't enough people living in each area to justify rolling out ADSL.

"We've reviewed the exchanges, and under current circumstances we can't see a case for setting a trigger because the total number of customers needed simply wouldn't be achievable," a BT spokesman said, adding that in many cases the number needed is actually greater than the total number of local households.

The telco giant isn't ruling out upgrading the exchanges in the future, though, and insists they'll be under "active review", in case new technologies or partnerships change the situation.

Even though trigger levels have never been set for these 322 exchanges, many people have registered their interest with BT anyway. These pockets of broadband demand could yet be served with high-speed Internet access through local action.

Over 20 groups of broadband activists, including the Access to Broadband Campaign (ABC), have now banded together in an umbrella organisation called the Community Broadband Network (CBN). Its objective is to link together communities who have taken a DIY approach to broadband provisioning, letting them share their experience and expertise.

E-commerce minister Stephen Timms announced government support for CBN on Wednesday.

Lindsey Annison, one of ABC's founders, believes that the local communities who are affected by BT's decision should see the setback as an opportunity to take a proactive approach. She pointed out that significant funding is on offer to places that aren't seen as economically viable by commercial broadband providers.

"If you live in one of these areas, you shouldn't be downhearted because it's good news in some ways," Annison told ZDNet UK.

"Regional development agencies such as SEEDA and EEDA have funds available," Annison said, adding that the Rabbit (remote area broadband inclusion trial) project is already helping many small businesses in remote areas to get broadband.

To see a list of the 322 exchanges that BT has decided it can't set a trigger level for, click here.