Rural broadband scheme set for first upgrade

Todmorden's exchange will be outfitted with ADSL broadband as residents commit to paying for high-speed Internet connections

Todmorden is set to become the first part of the UK to be upgraded to broadband thanks to public demand and a new pre-registration scheme.

As ZDNet UK reported last month, the Todmorden exchange was the first to hit its "trigger level" on BT's broadband pre-registration scheme when 200 local residents said they would pay for a broadband connection if it were available.

Once the trigger level was reached, 75 percent -- 150 -- of these 200 residents had to sign up with a broadband ISP before BT would actually upgrade the exchange, and this target has now been achieved. Work at the exchange is now underway and the first customers will get broadband service in November, said BT.

"Todmorden has done the business," a BT spokeswoman told ZDNet UK. BT's broadband pre-registration scheme allows people who can't currently get ADSL in their area to register their interest in high-speed Internet service. Trigger levels of interest have been set for hundreds of exchanges, depending on BT's estimate for how much it will cost to upgrade the exchange.

Internet service providers (ISPs) only had some six weeks to sign up the necessary number of customers once Todmorden hit its trigger level, and it is understood that some of the UK's largest ISPs initially failed to start converting expressions of interest into firm orders.

"It's fair to say that the sign-up process got going later than hoped. Some ISPs took a while to get into the swing of things," the BT spokeswoman explained.

However slowly, the sign-up process does appear to be progressing. Six further exchanges -- Irby on the Wirrall, Paddock Wood and Pembury in Kent, Penn in Buckinghamshire, Ponteland in Northumberland and Twyford in Berkshire -- will also now be upgraded after demand was confirmed by service providers. They are expected to go live in December.

In addition to the seven exchanges where demand levels have been confirmed, a further three exchanges Leek in Staffordshire, Bishops Waltham in Hampshire and Kesgrave in Suffolk, are just a handful of confirmations short, said BT, and are expected to be confirmed in the broadband upgrade programme later this week.

A further 10 exchanges have hit their trigger levels and service providers are now validating demand so work can begin on upgrading further exchanges.

BT's chief executive Ben Verwaayen was characteristically upbeat about the programme. "People in these areas put themselves in the vanguard of the movement to be the next to get ADSL broadband. BT is now pulling out all the stops to match their enthusiasm and deliver the broadband connections they've asked for," he said in a statement.

"For the next exchanges service providers have confirmed demand levels faster, so broadband conversion work can begin immediately. This speed gives us increasing confidence in our new registration scheme and our ability to predict accurately the level of interest we need to make broadband upgrades economically sound."

Since the demand registration scheme was launched in July more than 160,000 customer registrations have been logged.

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