BT launches vote to gauge Britain's need for speed

Want super-fast broadband? Better start mobilising your neighbours now...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 11 Nov 2010
The Simon Cowell-ification of British life continues apace: BT has just launched a voting competition to decide which rural communities will get super-fast broadband by 2015. Winning won't be easy: only the five communities which show the most interest will get access to high-speed internet, so locals will need to work together if they want to stand a chance. All well and good for the winners - but for the communities that lose out, their businesses could remain out in the cold...

The competition is all part of a Government commitment to have the ‘best’ super-fast broadband in Europe by the end of this Parliament. For its part, BT has agreed to supply two-thirds of British households with access by the end of 2015. That means that theoretically, four million homes will be on super-fast broadband by the end of 2010, with another 12 million getting access by 2015 (if it wants to meet that Government target).

BT actually launched a similar initiative in the early 2000s, when it was rolling out bog-standard broadband. At the time, as long as a high enough percentage of households and businesses in a community signed up, it would automatically get access. But in these austere times, BT is being a little more cautious: it will roll out to just five extra telephone exchanges above and beyond those already included in the original plan. It does, however, add that where more than 75% of premises in a community sign up to the competition, it will ‘engage’ with them to see what can be done. Which we're sure will be a massive consolation to those who don't quite make the cut.

It’s an interesting move by BT, which, like many other businesses, has had a tough recession. By launching a competition, it will be able to gauge demand for super-fast broadband in those rural communities it has thus far overlooked. If relatively few people in an area sign up to the competition, it can fairly safely argue that it’s not worth investing in broadband there for the time being.

But as with all competitions, there will inevitably losers. Leaving a third of the country out of its roll-out will do nothing to narrow that gap between urban and rural communities - and will give businesses more of an incentive to head to the cities. Then again, if there’s a strong take-up when the voting starts, perhaps it will serve to demonstrate to BT that even country bumpkins need super-fast broadband.

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