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BT confirms broadband upgrades for rotten boroughs

Small exchanges, big winners

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Six communities where an online poll claimed every single BT customer voted for the local exchange to be upgraded will get faster broadband, the firm has confirmed.

The "Race to Infinity" called on small towns and villages – about 25 per cent of its national network – to petition BT to be included in its ongoing fibre optic rollout. They would otherwise be overlooked, because the firm has calculated their small populations make it unlikely it would receive a return on such an investment.

Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Retail, said: "Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to those who haven’t been successful, but all their efforts haven't been in vain because their votes will help influence our plans in the future."

The winners, where every BT telephone customer apparently registered their desire for a faster internet connection – which they will now get by early 2012 – were:

Baschurch in Shropshire
Blewbury in Oxfordshire
Whitchurch in Hampshire
Caxton in Cambridgeshire
Madingley in Cambridgeshire
Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders

A total of more than 360,000 votes were cast.

The Race to Infinity was decided by the proportion of lines connected to each exchange for which a vote was cast. With 100 per cent each, the six winners were unbeatable. Some losers believe they have cause for sour grapes other than the winners' somewhat suspicious showing.

Barrow-In-Furness in Cumbria and Malvern in Worcestershire are arguably more deserving of an upgrade than some of the winners, with more than 23,000 and 15,000 lines respectively. None of the winners has more than 3,000. In raw votes cast, both are in the top six, but because fewer than 12 per cent of BT customers in each community registered an interest in faster broadband, for the foreseeable future they are stuck on ADSL.

Malvern-based Reg reader Shaun said: "Malvern is not unique in having a large line count with more than 1,000 votes, but why are these exchanges being continually overlooked when smaller surrounding exchanges are not?

"I thought business had to be run for the benefit of their shareholders – why repeatedly pass over larger exchanges in favour of smaller ones?"

For BT, the policy makes some sense, however: Upgrading a large exchange that serves many streetside cabinets to fibre optics would be much more expensive and more risky than a small exchange that serves few cabinets.

The firm has said this week it will now consider upgrading the rest of the top 10 in the Race to Infinity, which also comprises relatively small exchanges. All registered more than a thousand votes, more than 60 per cent of BT customer base in each community. ®

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