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BT names six winners in rural fibre broadband race

BT has announced the results of its Race to Infinity voting for the next six places to get BT's high-speed broadband, but some campaigners are unhappy with the contest methodology
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

BT has selected the six towns that will get high-speed fibre broadband connections in the next stage of its national rollout.

The six places that got the highest number of votes in BT's Race to Infinity competition are: Baschurch in Shropshire, Blewbury in Oxfordshire, Caxton and Madingley in Cambridgeshire, Innerleithen on the Scottish borders, and Whitchurch in Hampshire. Each of these exchanges will be enabled for BT Infinity broadband in "early 2012", the company said in an announcement on Monday.

The Race to Infinity competition — which began on 3 October — ran until 31 December and asked people to register their interest in having a fibre connection to their premises, with the locations where demand was highest to get the installation. More than 360,000 votes were received from across the UK, according to BT.

Initially, BT said it was going to name just five exchanges for the next phase of its fibre product rollout, which will provide subscribers with up to 40Mbps download speeds and up to 10Mbps upload speeds. The company added an extra winner "because six areas achieved extremely high levels of votes", BT said in a statement.

"Everyone in our five local villages deserves a pat on the back. The highlights for me have been working with some great people... and leaping into the number one position the moment we hit 1,000 votes," said Chris Whatmore, one of the campaign coordinators for the Blewbury exchange in Oxfordshire, in the BT statement.

On Tuesday a BT spokesman confirmed to ZDNet UK that as a result of the response to the competition, that the company "might go even further and add the top 10 [exchanges] to BT's deployment list". A decision is expected by the end of January.

In order to be eligible for the competition, each exchange needed to receive more than 1,000 votes. Each of the winning exchanges had a 100-percent registration level, according to the final standings shown on a website tracking the competition. BT's official Race to Infinity website no longer shows the number of votes lodged for each exchange.

Unhappy campaigners
Not all campaigners were as satisfied with the result. Julian Shersby, one of the campaigners for the Capel exchange in Surrey, wrote to BT in advance of the vote announcement questioning the methodology used to collect votes and requesting an investigation.

BT defended its approach to the count in an email response to Shersby seen by ZDNet UK.

"BT Retail has used industry recognised, publicly available data to set exchange size and has completed a number of audits of the votes cast (especially during December as the race was drawing to a close) in order to remove any votes that it believes to be either invalid and fraudulent," BT group director Johnny McQuoid wrote. "BT Retail's Race to Infinity team has been in regular communication with campaigners to ensure they were kept informed of any voting irregularities."

This response did not satisfy Shersby, who on Monday said he was "very disappointed" that BT had not directly addressed complaints about the basis on which the company calculated its percentage registration figures, among other issues. "For example, Caxton in particular is now known to have many more premises on the exchange than the one that you used to calculate your percentage registration figure," he wrote in an email to BT seen by ZDNet UK.

Shersby suggested that other factors, such as multiple phone lines at a single premises or mobile voting may also have skewed the results.

"[BT] belatedly allowed completely untraceable voting by text to take place but did not proactively inform Capel or other campaigns that this option was now available to their campaigners or the public. As text votes from unregistered mobiles cannot be traced there is of course no way to eliminate false registrations," he said in his email. 

However, a BT spokesman told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that mobile registrations only accounted for "around 900 votes" and that they were checked in the same way as online votes.

"We provided the text voting to allow people without internet access or fixed-line services to register their interest," the spokesman added.

BT said that it will contact the winning exchanges — and those that received more than 75 percent of votes — in January to provide more details of the broadband scheme.

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