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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Rural residents get a say on broadband
Village in Cornwall
People living in countryside can sign up for broadband
BT has buckled to demand for more high-speed services in rural areas with an online scheme to give countryside residents a voice.

Despite providing broadband services to up to 66% of the population, BT has come in for criticism from MPs and customers for ignoring the remainder.

In response, it has launched a scheme that will allow consumers and businesses to register their interest in ordering broadband services.

When a sufficient number of people have signed up in a particular area BT will ADSL-enable the local exchange.

How many is enough?

The scheme will go live on 1 July. Between 200 and 500 registrations will be needed in order to persuade the telco that rolling out broadband is commercially worthwhile.

National pressure group Broadband4Britain has disputed BT's figures, claiming that its own consultation with analysts showed that ADSL could be sustained with just 50 customers using services.

"Whilst we broadly welcome the increased openness from BT, we fear that this latest initiative may turn into an exercise in demand quenching, rather than demand ignition," said Campaign Manager Andy Williams.

BT is sticking to its guns though.

"This exciting new scheme gives us the means to bring broadband Britain to every community where it is commercially viable," said BT Wholesale Chief Executive Paul Reynolds.

"People have been claiming that there is sufficient demand for broadband in their areas if only they had a way to channel their interest to us. It will act as a true barometer of demand," he said.

Currently around 250,000 consumers have been connected to ADSL which offers high speed, always-on access via the telephone line.

Digital divide

According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, broadband connections have risen over 16% since March, although they still only make up 4.6% of total internet connections.

The government has become increasingly concerned about a digital divide opening between town and country.

It has ear-marked 30m to spend on education and awareness campaigns but has not been able to solve the dilemma of how to get broadband technologies to remote areas.

In addition to its online scheme, BT has been involved in a number of community partnership schemes where local businesses bid collectively for broadband.

It has also recently launched a satellite service which provides improved speeds on traditional dial-up internet access.

See also:

14 Jun 02 | Business
12 Jun 02 | Business
30 May 02 | Science/Nature
29 May 02 | Science/Nature
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