Broadband Britain: BT hits 1m target

Telecoms: Verwaayen confident of doubling number of high-speed internet connections by 2004
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The Independent Online

BT will today announce it has passed the first of the broadband targets set out by its chief executive, Ben Verwaayen, last year after signing up its one millionth high-speed internet customer.

It is connecting that customer, The Winrose Project, today and celebrating the event by giving the charity, which helps disadvantaged young people in the Leeds area, computer equipment.

Mr Verwaayen hailed the growth in broadband customers as "a great achievement". "The UK is one of the most competitive broadband environments in the world and this is shown by the fact that more than 100 service providers supply broadband over our phone lines to one million customers," he said.

Broadband enables users to connect to the web and download pages at about 10 times the speed of normal connections. According to the telecoms regulator Oftel, the UK now has two million broadband connections with new connections running at about 35,000 a week. The other one million UK customers are connected to broadband by the cable companies NTL and Telewest - a milestone reached by the pair at the end of April.

However, broadband take-up in the UK still lags a long way behind that of countries such as Germany, where usage is about double that of this country, and France, where it is 50 per cent higher. BT has cut the price of wholesale broadband connections twice in the last year in an attempt to stimulate demand.

The target of getting one million broadband connections by this summer was laid down by Mr Verwaayen when he joined BT in February last year and the company had just 145,000 subscribers. As part of his strategy to revitalise BT's business, he emphasised then that broadband would be "at the heart" of the operation and predicted the company would reach nearly £700m in broadband related revenues a year by 2004-05.

He also said he wanted to have 2 million broadband customers by 2004 and 5 million customers two years after that. He launched a £33m broadband advertising campaign last autumn to help BT achieve its targets.

Alison Ritchie, BT's chief broadband officer, said the company was still confident it would hit both those targets. "The growth in broadband has been tremendous and we are absolutely confident, as we continue, that broadband will be a service that people love," she said. Of BT's broadband customers, more than 50 per cent are BT customers, either through its BT Retail or BT Openworld products, while the balance are connected on BT lines through about 130 other internet service providers such as AOL and Freeserve.

BT also said yesterday it planned to upgrade more of its exchanges, meaning more of the UK population will be able to receive broadband services. Seventy-one per cent of UK households are currently connected to broadband-enabled exchanges and BT estimates this figure will increase to more than 80 per cent by the end of 2003. Under its current scheme, introduced in July last year to gauge the level of interest in broadband, about 250 people have to register demand for the product with BT before it will upgrade the exchanges.

It said yesterday that the "trigger levels" for the upgrade would be cut by 25 per cent, meaning that another 69 exchanges ranging from the Isle of Wight to Northern Ireland would qualify immediately. "BT's world-leading registration scheme has been critical to this success, as it has stimulated demand to such an extent that we now have the confidence to reduce trigger levels and take on more of the commercial risk," Mr Verwaayen said.

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