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BT's trigger-less 400 exchanges – ‘cynical’

Fishing for subsidies

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BT's decision not to give trigger levels to more than 400 exchanges has been described as "cynical" by a leading UK broadband pressure group.

Broadband4Britain (B4B) reckons the move is a ploy by BT to try and win public money to help support its roll-out of broadband.

B4B spokesman Andy Williams told The Register: "I think this is a cynical move by BT to win subsidies. It is fishing for grants and public money to upgrade these exchanges."

And he urged other operators to take the lead and service the demand for broadband that BT so far refuses to meet.

BT's broadband registration scheme is meant to map demand for broadband in areas currently not wired up to high-speed Net access. The theory is that if enough people register their interest, BT will invest the cash needed to convert their exchange to DSL.

However, the scheme is dependent on the setting of a "trigger level" - a set number of users needed to pay for the upgrade of an exchange. Without it, exchanges cannot be upgraded regardless of the interest.

Earlier this week ADSL Guide reported that BT Wholesale had added a further 322 exchanges to the 100 or so it currently regards as commercially unviable to convert to broadband. In other words, these exchanges do not have a level of demand set that would trigger BT investment.

And it means that even though several hundred people per exchange are prepared to pay for broadband, BT has decided that this is not enough - at the moment - to cover the cost of converting the exchange.

B4B's attack is the latest in an ongoing row over the cost of converting exchanges to DSL. Last year, the independent pressure group consulted independent analysts, industry experts and equipment suppliers and concluded that any local telephone exchange in the UK can be affordably "broadband-enabled" with just 50 paying customers.

Even at this level B4B reckoned BT would see a "rapid pay-back on [its] capital investment".

A spokeswoman for BT insisted that the telco is still looking at other ways to convert these 400 or so exchanges to DSL including teaming up with public sector organisations to help offset investment costs. Indeed, BT could be about to announce plans along these lines.

Said the spokeswoman: "We haven't ruled out setting triggers for these exchanges. We're actively looking at what more can be done. For anyone to suggest we are sitting back and waiting for funding is wrong." ®

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