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BT slammed for 'ignoring' broadband interest

Thousands of ADSL-hungry people can't get a trigger level off BT, let alone broadband - but the telco says it isn't possible to have viable targets for every community
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

BT has been criticised for not being upfront with all parts of the UK about exactly how many people must express an interest in getting broadband for an exchange to be upgraded.

Industry groups are concerned that the telecom operator is not setting broadband trigger levels for some parts of the country where there is considerable interest from local residents in getting ADSL.

ADSLguide, a Web site that covers the UK's broadband sector, flagged on Monday 12 local exchanges that haven't been given a trigger level even through at least 250 people in each area want broadband.

In one case, over 500 people are keen to pay for a high-speed Internet connection, but they still haven't been told how many more people would have to join them before this will be possible.

BT's trigger levels are a measure of how many people in one area have to express an interest in getting broadband before it makes commercial sense for BT to upgrade their local telephone exchange.

Thousands of triggers have been set by BT since last year, and many have already been hit thanks to local campaigning. If all those still outstanding were achieved, then ADSL coverage would reach 90 percent of the population.

But many of BT's 6,500 local exchanges have neither broadband nor a trigger level.

Despite this, people who are connected to such exchanges are still registering their interest in broadband, and BT is being attacked for not giving them a clearer indication of their chances of getting broadband in the future.

"If BT is serious that the demand tracker scheme is based on demand, then it should very quickly address the problem of exchanges that show demand but have no trigger set," urged ADSLguide.

Topping the list of exchanges without triggers is Camelford, in Cornwall, where at last count 501 people had registered their interest in getting broadband.

As many other local exchanges are being promised broadband once as few as 150 people register with BT, Camelford residents would be justified in feeling less than chuffed about their situation.

BT's policy is that it will review any exchange once 150 local people have said they want broadband, but it isn't always publishing the results of these assessments. In some cases, the telco is going on to set a trigger, but in others it isn't. It's likely that in the latter case, it has found that the cost of connecting the exchange to its high-speed network is simply too high.

At least one rival telco, though, believes BT should bite the bullet.

"What's the issue with setting a trigger level for every exchange in the country? If in some cases a trigger would be 2,000 people, then so be it," Justin Fielder, Easynet's business development director, told ZDNet UK last week.

BT, though, is reluctant to put itself in a position where the trigger level for an area is actually greater than the number of local households.

"Unfortunately, it's impossible in some cases to set a viable trigger level that would give us a commercial return," a BT spokesman explained on Tuesday. He added that this could change in the future as technology improves, or if more public money became available to fund partnership schemes between BT and local development agencies.

BT is currently conducting a widescale review of how it approaches the issue of making broadband available to the last 10 percent of the population.

In the meantime, though, Camelford residents -- and thousands of other people in the same position -- are left in the dark with no real idea of how likely it is that their local exchange will ever be upgraded.

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