Todmorden might not get broadband
ISPs slow to pass on vital information
There are fears that Todmorden in West Yorkshire might not be upgraded to DSL because some ISPs are failing to pass on information to BT Wholesale.
Last month Todmorden became the first exchange in the UK to hit the threshold in a demand-led initiative to get areas without broadband upgraded to xDSL. ISPs then had six weeks to verify those registrations as genuine. Once achieved, BT Wholesale would then proceed and invest the necessary cash to convert the exchange to broadband.
Yesterday, though, BT's own ISP, BTopenworld, admitted that it had failed to contact any of those in Todmorden who had registered their interest. The ISP also admitted that it had not accepted any orders either.
Now, Net users from Todmorden and other parts of the country that have hit the trigger level, have told The Register that other ISPs have also failed to verify orders or pass on the information. Unless this process is completed, then it's possible that exchanges won't be converted to broadband.
In the case of Todmorden, it has until October 22 to convert 150 pre-registrations to firm orders and there are real fears that this deadline might be missed.
One reader from Todmorden told us: "Given BTopenworld's admission that they haven't converted any orders as yet, I am now under the impression that there is no chance we'll get broadband services."
If Todmorden were to fail to reach its target, then it would come as a major embarrassment to BT, which is currently spending £33m to promote broadband in the UK.
However, BTopenworld is not the only major ISP that is failing to pass on details. Those running the campaign to get Leek in Staffordshire converted to xDSL are also concerned at the lack of interest from ISPs.
"It's great that somebody has finally exposed the BT Wholesale Pre registration Scheme for the farce it really is," said the organiser of the broadband4leek campaign.
"Since going onto 'phase2' (the advance orders phase), there's been little evidence of the big ISP's doing anything to confirm the pre registrations, so the problem is far more widespread than just BTOpenworld.
He claims AOL UK, BT, Freeserve and Tiscali are telling Net users that they know nothing about having to get advance orders.
These claims are supported by other users who've contacted The Register claiming that they've drawn a blank with their ISPs. Privately, industry insiders also maintain that the big name ISPs have been reluctant to complete this second phase of he take the advance orders.
Some people are so concerned at the apparent lack of progress they have even emailed BT CEO, Ben Verwaayen, calling on him to intervene.
Andrew Ferguson, from ADSL Guide is well aware of the problems facing people on the ground. "It appears to be the larger ISPs that aren't taking part with some not visibly collecting registrations," he said.
This, he believes, is more than an oversight on their part since they've had since mid-summer to prepare for this. Asked whether he felt Todmorden would reach its threshold by the October 22 deadline he told us: "I wouldn't put any money on it."
A spokesman for AOL UK admitted that that the ISP has so far not passed on any details, insisting that it only joined the pre-registration process late. However, it will be passing on the necessary details to BT Wholesale from next week.
A spokeswoman for Freeserve denied that that the ISP had failed to play its part adding that it has verified the orders and passed on that information to BTWholesale. No one from any of the other named ISPs was available for comment at the time of writing.
Of course, there are some ISPs that have been actively involved in the process and handling the advanced orders. Nildram and Zen consistently crop up time and time again as ISPs which are taking part in the initiative. As soon as exchanges hit the pre-set demand trigger levels they send out emails and phone people to confirm orders.
Thanks to their action, many local campaigners looking to get their exchanges converted to xDSL are now calling on people to register with one of these two ISPs to guarantee that their interest counts.
Worryingly, though, Zen reports that despite trying to convert registrations of interest into firm orders from the outset, it has only been able to confirm four in every ten orders for the Todmorden exchange.
This lack of success - due maybe to the fact that people have either changed their minds, gone with another ISP or as a result of some of the pre-registrations being bogus - means that reaching 150 advance orders could prove even more difficult.
BT Wholesale - the division of BT behind the pre-registration system - admits that the number of verifications received from ISPs "has been slower than it would have liked". But a spokeswoman was confident that Todmorden would reach its target.
However, BT Wholesale has declined to say how many orders have been verified for Todmorden. The problem with this, is that if Todmorden does make it, it won't be known whether it was done legitimately, or by massaging the figures to avoid a public relations disaster.
Nonetheless, in light of concerns about this upgrade process it seems likely that BT Wholesale will redouble its efforts to convince ISPs to cooperate and pass on the necessary information to make the process work. After all, it's in the interests of all concerned - BT Wholesale, ISPs and end users - that more exchanges are converted to broadband.
Indeed, it seems the message is starting to get through. After being outed as an ISP not passing on any information, BTopenworld has told The Register that it has now contacted all those concerned at Todmorden to confirm orders and passed on those details to BT Wholesale.
Although it wouldn't say how many orders it's confirmed, it said it had secured a "very high percentage".
What's clear from this is that the broadband pre-registration system - a system set up by BTWholesale to convert exchanges to xDSL based on real demand - is based on good intention. But unless all those concerned are prepared to play their part, it is the end user who loses out. Again. ®