Public-private partnership boosts rural ADSL

The pace of BT's broadband rollout can be accelerated if local councils and development agencies help by boosting awareness and demand

Over 60,000 more households and 6,000 extra small businesses in Wiltshire will be able to access ADSL broadband by the end of this year due to a £7m partnership between BT and the public sector.

The telco announced on Monday that it plans to broadband-enable at least 11 more of Wiltshire's remote and rural local telephone exchanges within the next few months under the Wiltshire and Swindon Smartplace scheme. Six more exchanges could also be upgraded next year if the project is a success.

The Smartplace initiative is a partnership, which aims to boost the local economy, between Wiltshire County Council, the South West of England Regional Development Agency, BT and four district councils.

These 11 local exchanges would not normally be upgraded to broadband because BT does not believe there is enough local demand to make the process economically viable under normal conditions.

In order to get them upgraded, Smartplace is supplying £4m that will be spent creating broadband content, supporting distance learning projects and promoting teleworking -- which should all increase demand for broadband in the area. In return, BT is spending the £3m needed to make broadband available from the exchanges.

This follows the successful ActNow project in Cornwall, and is in line with BT's oft-repeated claim that the public sector is the key to driving broadband rollout across the whole UK.

"Today our Smartplace partners are demonstrating to the rest of the country how, by making high-speed communications the heart of their economic strategies, the public sector together with BT can also put more communities at the centre of a Broadband Britain," said Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail, in a statement.

According to Philip Watkins of the South West Regional Development Agency, projects such as Wiltshire and Swindon Smartplace can make broadband commercially viable even in less populated areas by increasing broadband awareness.

"By working together, we are breaking the vicious circle where low demand leads to a lack of investment in broadband services," explained Watkins.