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BT pits town against town in race for fibre broadband

The telecommunications firm has launched a survey to gauge demand for fibre broadband around the UK, with the five places showing the most interest guaranteed to get fibre activation by 2012
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor on

BT has begun a public survey to gauge the demand for fibre broadband across the UK, to help it decide where to focus its next-generation broadband deployment.

The survey, which kicked off on Monday and runs until 31 December, is being conducted via BT's dedicated website, where residents will be able to register their interest in having a fibre connection to their homes. BT has added a competitive element, called Race to Infinity, which promises that the five exchanges where demand is highest will receive fibre broadband by 2012 at the latest.

"BT will have rolled out fibre to more than four million homes by the end of 2010, but it'll still have more than 12 million premises to pass by 2015. We want to hear from towns and villages across the UK," said Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT Retail, in the company's announcement on Monday.

In May, BT pledged to spend £2.5bn bringing fibre broadband to two-thirds of UK premises within five years. However, the company said that the remaining one-third would require public sector or community investment.

"BT Retail is also committing funds to help enable the five winning exchanges and so there's an added incentive for people to vote," Patterson added.

The company told ZDNet UK that it had put aside a £10m contingency kitty to fund the five winning exchanges if necessary, adding that the total cost to BT is unknown at this stage and could vary depending on the location of the chosen exchanges.

If a winning exchange is not thought to be commercially attractive, then BT Retail will provide money to cover the additional cost of putting it in the queue for a fibre upgrade, the company said. If a winner is commercially viable, it may be put at the head of that queue. The queue includes exchanges nominated by communications providers for fibre activation under a BT Openreach scheme.

The Race to Infinity website will show the total number of votes for each exchange. Once an exchange has reached 1,000 votes, it will qualify to be in contention for the top-five list.

In addition, BT has promised to work with communities where 75 percent of the inhabitants have shown an interest in fibre broadband, regardless of whether those areas make the top-five list. It aims to add them to the roll-out plan or to help them secure public sector or community-sourced funding.

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