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Easynet's trigger scheme aims to close broadband divide

Public sector demand is the key to increasing the availability of high-speed Internet services, and Easynet may have cracked how to do it
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
A broadband demand aggregation scheme launched by Easynet on Wednesday could help to bring high-speed Internet services to parts of the UK that are currently excluded from Broadband Britain.

The new initiative, called Easynet Exchange Enable (E3), aims to use the public sector's broadband spending as a lever to increase availability for the rest of the population.

Like BT's pioneering broadband demand tracker, E3 uses trigger levels to indicate how much guaranteed broadband demand there must be in an area before it is economically viable to upgrade the local telephone exchange.

According to Easynet, though, E3 is more sophisticated because it recognises that certain organisations and businesses will consume more broadband -- and therefore generate more income for the company providing that service -- than others.

Easynet says that in many places it will need as few as 10 or 25 connections from institutions such as NHS Trusts, local councils and schools in order to get a local exchange upgraded.

Once this has happened, homes and businesses in the area will also be able to get broadband once Easynet has unbundled their local exchange.

"Once you aggregate the needs of the NHS, local councils and businesses in the area you can actually find enough demand so that Easynet can roll broadband out with no public subsidy," explained Justin Fielder, Easynet's business development director.

Fielder explained to ZDNet UK that Easynet is able to offer a wide range of broadband products once it has unbundled an exchange. The telco's SureStream range of leased lines provides a two-way symmetrical connection of up to 8Mbps with full service level agreements -- making it an ideal broadband connection for a school -- but the same hardware that is installed at the local exchange to provide SureStream can also support other flavours of broadband, such as a 512Kbps ADSL link.

E3 is primarily aimed at regional development agencies and other government bodies that are attempting to broadband-enable the UK's public sector. This includes the Regional Aggregation Boards (RABs) that were recently announced by e-commerce minister Stephen Timms. These RABs will gather up the public sector broadband demand in one area, and allow telecoms operators to bid for this contract.

Fielder admitted that, as with BT's trigger scheme, some local exchanges are more expensive to upgrade than others. He added that the solution to this problem was to bundle together the upgrading of several exchanges -- allowing the more commercially desirable exchanges to subsidise the less attractive ones.

"If you can find 3,000 trigger points across 30 local exchanges, then you can get a whole clump of exchanges upgraded," Fielder explained.

And, although Easynet expects to be talking mainly to regional agencies and government organisations about E3, it's not blocking businesses from also taking a lead.

"If there is a business park where there are 10 or 20 people who want broadband, then we wouldn't discourage them from contacting us," Fielder added.

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