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Partnerships key to rural ADSL, says BT

BT has pledged to install ADSL in areas where there is enough demand, and wants regional government and the private sector to help boost broadband awareness
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

BT is planning to lobby regional development agencies (RDAs) and business groups around Britain, in an attempt to persuade them to stimulate broadband awareness and demand in their area.

If successful, the move could make it economically viable for BT to install ADSL equipment in more parts of the country.

Having rolled out ADSL to just over 1,000 local exchanges -- mostly in towns and cities -- BT insists that it is not yet economically viable to extend its high-speed services to rural areas. Take-up of broadband has been disappointing in areas where it is available, and BT has concluded that demand will be even lower in areas with fewer homes and businesses.

The company is actively seeking partners who could stimulate interest in high-speed Internet services, possibly by making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to buy the right kind of broadband service and by offering help and training.

One such scheme, called Access for Cornwall through Telecommunications for New Opportunities Worldwide (ACT NOW), is already underway. This initiative has seen the European Regional Development Council contribute £5.7m to subsidise broadband rollout and marketing -- and in return BT is spending at least £1.7m to upgrade up to 12 local exchanges.

If there is clear evidence of sufficient broadband demand in a rural area, BT is pledging to provide it.

Speaking in Cornwall on Wednesday, Pierre Danon, chief executive of BT Retail, said that the high-speed Internet access sector had to embrace a demand-led approach.

"BT shares the government's vision of a broadband Britain but we cannot do it alone. We want to create partnerships with others who share that ambition and will approach all regional agencies and stakeholders to pursue opportunities similar to act now over the coming months," said Danon.

This isn't the first time that BT has warned that it will not be able to roll out broadband to rural areas on its own. Earlier this month, at a select committee hearing, BT chairman Sir Christopher Bland warned that -- without government assistance -- some areas will have to wait for up to 20 years for broadband.

In a attempt to improve the situation, the government recently made £30m available to RDAs, and asked them to come up with proposals that would increase broadband take-up in their area.

The Department of Trade and Industry has not yet revealed how this £30m will be spent, but an announcement is expected in the next couple of weeks.

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