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Virgin Media to add 500k homes to cable network

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Virgin Media plans to connect about half a million more premises to its network in the next few years in the first significant expansion of cable coverage since the 1990s.

The firm hopes if it targets the expansion carefully it will get a good return for a relatively small investment.

The first 50,000 homes and businesses are scheduled to be added this year, CEO Neil Berkett told investors. The network currently passes 12.5 million - about 50 per cent - of premises nationwide, mostly in urban areas.

Because it is saddled with massive debts from the various regional companies who borrowed billions to lay the cable network, Virgin Media's expansion will focus on places where ducts are already in the ground and new developments where civil engineering costs will be low.

A spokesman for the firm declined to give specific details of where cable will be laid. "We do want to expand wherever viable," he said.

The strategy is termed "infill" because it seeks to add high density pockets of premises close to, or geographically inside, existing coverage areas. A team of "spotters" is drawing up a list of potential targets, and there are plans for a system to allow members of the public to report unused ducts and new developments.

The firm declined to give any financial details of the planned investment.

In the long term, Virgin Media's spokesman said there were also embryonic plans to expand to areas further from the existing network. ®

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