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Kent village puts up funds for fibre broadband

The village of Iwade has used a council grant to subsidise the laying of fibre by BT, which had no plans to include the rural area in its super-fast broadband rollout
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

A small Kent village is using public funds to subsidise BT's installation of fibre in the area, which would otherwise have missed out on a super-fast broadband connection.

On Thursday, BT said that the village of Iwade had received a grant from Kent County Council to help pay for the extension of fibre from a telephone exchange in nearby Sittingbourne, which had already been selected for a broadband upgrade.

BT Openreach photo

Iwade villagers celebrate the decision to subsidise super-fast broadband.
Photo credit: BT Openreach

In May, BT announced plans to invest £2.5bn to roll out fibre-based broadband to two-thirds of UK homes, a step up from its original aim of covering 40 percent of the country. But the company said the "final third" of homes, such as those in rural areas, are unlikely to get fibre broadband without public investment.

"Iwade did not feature in BT's fibre roll-out plans previously, as the commercial case for deploying fibre in less densely populated areas is very challenging," the company said in a statement. "However, by finding additional funding to bridge the gap in BT’s commercial case for rolling out fibre to the village, the local county and parish councils have helped BT to put Iwade firmly on the UK's fibre broadband map."

All four of Iwade's telephone cabinets will get fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband, giving all of the village's 1,350 premises access to broadband speeds of up 40Mbps by autumn of this year. Among the likely customers for faster broadband services is a local nursery, which offers webcam services allowing parents to monitor their children throughout the day, BT said.

The telco added it is open to similar arrangements with other places in Iwade's situation around the country.

"Our investment is one of the biggest commercial investments in fibre in the world, and we are prepared to invest further if others are prepared to work with us," said BT Openreach chief executive Steve Robertson in a statement. "Our partnership with Iwade is a great example of this, and we're very keen to work with other parts of the country on similar projects."

However, the company said it will only consider localities that are already near to exchanges that have already been targeted for fibre services. Certain technical restrictions also apply, such as the need for local premises to be within 1km of their telephone cabinets.

The coalition government has recognised the need for public funding to assist in the rollout of fibre services, and it said in May that it will adopt the Conservative policy of using part of the BBC TV licence fee to fund broadband "in areas that the market alone will not reach".

The government is also considering other ways of boosting fast broadband rollouts, such as legislation to reduce the investment needed to lay fibre.

In June, BT pledged to step up the pace of its fibre rollout plans for Greater London. It is now planning to roll out fibre broadband to exchanges covering 87 percent of London homes and businesses by the spring of 2011, up from a current figure of just over three percent. To reach its goal, 114 exchanges will need to be upgraded to support super-fast broadband, the company said at the time.

Among BT's competitors is cable operator Virgin Media, which in February promised to offer 100Mbps to some homes by the end of 2010.

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