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Rob on the road Friday, 12 July, 2002, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Where's our broadband?
Rob Pittam visits internet service provider Ammnet in Staffordshire
Internet services provider Ammnet can't get broadband
When we decided to cover the story of the small Staffordshire town of Burntwood, which couldn't get access to broadband services on the internet, we stirred up a hornets' nest.

A brief mention on Monday that we would be featuring the issue later in the week led to a rash of e-mails from viewers around the country.

They were all complaining that BT wouldn't link their towns or villages up to the superfast service.

It quickly became clear that there is enormous frustration in some parts of the country that people are missing out on the next wave of the communications revolutions.

And while it might be an inconvenience for the average home surfer, for many businesses it's directly affecting their competitiveness.

Left behind

Ammnet at Burntwood is a classic example. The company provides internet and software services for industry.

It's grown on the back of the technology boom but now faces the prospect of having to move from its headquarters or be left behind.

Matthew Fowler, Ammnet
Matthew: Had little response from BT

Matthew Fowler of Ammnet is embarrassed by the situation his company has been put in: "It's all about increasing productivity and we can't do that if we haven't the right level of access to the internet."

It's particularly ironic for a company which routinely puts its customers onto broadband, or ADSL, yet can't access the service itself.

Demand

The problem is that BT is rolling out the service across the country according to local demand - or whether BT believes there will be enough people using it to make it worthwhile.

The exchange at Lichfield, just four miles away, has the system, but not Burntwood.

BT says there hasn't been sufficient demand from businesses in the village.

That infuriates the local chamber of commerce which, like us, had an overwhelming response when it canvassed members about whether they wanted the system or not.

They're worried firms like Ammnet, exactly the kind of high-tech company they want to encourage, might be forced to move.

With a new motorway - the Birmingham relief road - being built nearby, they also fear new firms looking to relocate to the area will go to towns where the exchanges have been converted.

Converted

BT strongly defends its policy. It says that so far it has converted 1,117 exchanges.

That means 66% of businesses and homes in the UK can now get broadband and the number of ADSL exchanges is growing all the time.

Broadband coverage
1,117 exchanges in UK
66% UK homes & businesses
73% current internet users
11,000 installations per week

The company is committed to having a million customers on broadband by the summer of next year.

It's set up a registering system on its website and says if enough people register the company will move to install ADSL at the local exchange.

But so far it claims there hasn't been enough demand from Burntwood.

Upgrade

In many other parts of the country, as our e-mails made clear, there's a feeling that people are being ignored.

Back in Burntwood a BT spokesman pointed out that Ammnet was in fact an NTL customer, although the firm said it would move back to BT if it could get broadband.

NTL said it was providing ADSL through BT exchanges and could do nothing until the local one was upgraded.

Meanwhile, don't mention being a BT customer to the shop next door - they've just had their phone line upgraded to ISDN. It hasn't worked since, and it's a phone shop!

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05 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
11 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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