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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Struggle to get broadband
Road into Cople village
The road to Cople is not paved with broadband
This year is supposed to be the year of Broadband Britain. But getting hooked up to a fast internet connection is not as easy as it seems, as BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield reports.

Richard Samphire lives in Cople, a small village outside Bedford. As a software engineer he would like a high-speed internet connection in his home.

So he set out to find if he could be included in the high-speed revolution.

The answer, after a series of frustrating phone calls, seems to be a resounding no.

Mr Samphire is not impressed and would like to know what the UK Government is spending its rural broadband fund on.

Mr Samphire called BT, hoping to get answers to when, or if, his local exchange would be upgraded to ADSL.

ADSL is the most prevalent form of broadband and runs via a telephone line. In order to receive it, customers have to live within a five-mile radius of a telephone exchange that has been upgraded to ADSL.

Who you going to call?

Two hours and 10 phone calls later, Mr Samphire finally got some answers to his questions.

Richard Samphire lives in Cople
Samphire: Frustrating time
"It took a long time but I was determined to get to the bottom of it. BT is a huge company and the left hand didn't seem to know what the right hand was doing," he said.

BT's broadband provider, BTopenworld, told Mr Samphire it did not deal with rollout queries.

He was passed on to BTopenworld technical who told him it was BT Ignite that he needed.

Unable to provide a phone number, Mr Samphire had to make two more attempts to get the correct number for BT Ignite.

Through to the wrong department, Mr Samphire was bounced on to BT Business who, in turn, put him back to the helpdesk.

Nearly there

"The helpdesk chap was very helpful and gave me the direct dial number for the guy who deals with the management of ADSL roll out in the UK," Mr Samphire told BBC News Online.

Elated to be talking to the right person, in this case Jim Morris from BT retail, Mr Samphire was about to be disappointed by his answers.

Broadband facts
Up to 30% of UK will not get broadband
Brokerage schemes where businesses 'share' broadband are being trialled
300,000 homes have broadband
"I was told that roll out had stopped last year. Some 1,000 exchanges had been ADSL-enabled and that would impact the majority of the population. Any more would only be done on a business case basis," said Mr Samphire.

So if he wants to get ADSL, he has to find another 200 villagers that would definitely want the technology in order for it to be cost-effective for BT to enable his local exchange.

Alternatively he could try to get a EU grant. Neither option is realistic in Cople says Mr Samphire.

'Not ideal'

BT has apologised for the difficulty Mr Samphire had in getting through to the right person.

Strict regulatory rules mean BT must keep its distance from its ISP BTopenworld, so broadband inquiries can no longer be dealt with via BT's customer service number.

"We are trying to streamline the contact processes and admit that from the customer's standpoint it hasn't been ideal," said a spokesman for BT Retail.

Despite running up his phone bill, Mr Samphire does not blame BT for the lack of broadband in rural areas.

"I was told BT proposed to the government to broadband-enable every street in the country. It needed government funding and the government said no."

No solution

The government has admitted that, despite making 30m available to bring broadband to remote areas over a year ago, no technical solution has yet been found to getting broadband to the countryside.

Cable operators, burdened with debt, are highly unlikely to start digging up the roads in villages like Cople.

Mr Samphire has also ruled out satellite technology.

"It is expensive and there are delays with it as it has to be bounced back from space," he pointed out.

Anyone wishing to find out whether they can get ADSL in their homes should go to where they can enter their postcodes to find out availability.

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
UK slow to close digital divide
19 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Broadband gets popular
09 Mar 02 | Sci/Tech
Tempting people to broadband
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