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BT to push fibre to 1.5m more homes and businesses

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BT has abandoned its plans to limit its fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) programme to new build sites.

Today, it announced one and a half million copper lines into homes and businesses will be joined by optical cables, initially offering broadband at 100Mbit/s downstream and capable of delivering 1Gbit/s.

BT had previously only publicly committed to one million FTTP installations on building projects where the civil engineering costs of laying fibre would be low.

The wider deployment means BT plans to run fibre to two and a half million premises by 2012. A further seven and a half million line will be upgraded to fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services, delivering up to 40Mbit/s downstream.

Between FTTP and FTTC, ten million premises - or about 40 per cent of BT's network - are scheduled for upgrade. BT said the programme is ahead of schedule so the expansion of FTTP will not bust its £1.5bn budget. Competitors will be able to buy access to the fibre, although BT will have greater control over pricing than it does over ADSL.

A spokeswoman said it was "too early to say" which areas now stand to benefit from FTTP, which is already installed at the Ebbsfleet development in Kent and will be trialled at brownfield sites in London and Milton Keynes. All of BT's fibre plans are however focused on densely populated areas where the return on investment will be highest.

Steve Robertson, chief executive of BT Openreach, the division responsible for upgrading and maintaining the network, said: "Service providers have asked us for more FTTP and so we have listened to them.

"The UK is well placed but we need to invest for the future so that customers can access the rich applications that will be popular in a few years time."

For those in rural areas who struggle to access the applications that are popular today because of decades-old infrastructure, such futurology may seem hollow.

The government's Digital Britain report found that there was an economic case to upgrade two-thirds of the national network to provide faster broadband service via FTTP or FTTC. For the "final third," it plans a 50 pence per month levy on every land line rental to create a subsidy pot.

Virgin Media, whose cable network covers about half of premises nationally, yesterday indicated its interest in expanding to rural areas with a trial partnership project in Cornwall. BT said today: "BT is keen to deploy fibre more widely but, as has been seen with other countries, such deployment typically requires support from the public sector."

The Digital Britain report envisaged faster broadband delivered to rural regions by a mix of subsidies and mobile technologies. ®

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