BT hits broadband target 10 months early

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The Independent Online

Bt Group, the telecoms company, yesterday said it had passed a milestone in its bid to focus on new broadband technology some 10 months ahead of schedule.

The company said it had hit its target to sign up 2 million wholesale broadband internet connections during 2004 less than two months into the year.

The former state-owned monopoly, which is moving to cut its dependence on its declining fixed-line business, said the latest million connections came in a little over eight months.

The company said that of the 2 million connections, about half was accounted for by other internet service providers, which buy capacity from BT. The telecoms group also provides consumers with broadband and low-speed dial-up internet access.

The telecoms group has set a target of 5 million wholesale broadband connections by 2006.

Ben Verwaayen, BT's chief executive, said: "The phenomenal growth we are now seeing in the broadband market is excellent news for the whole economy, and for the UK industry in general.

"Over the next few years we will have to continue to work hard to maintain this momentum, but I have no doubt that this is absolutely achievable."

Earlier this month, BT, which controls more than two-thirds of the UK's home telephone market, reported falling revenues led by an 8 per cent decline at its core fixed-line business, but posted strong growth in "new wave" businesses that include broadband internet.

It said sales of broadband and information technology products rose 31 per cent to £838m in the third quarter, representing 18 per cent of total group turnover against 14 per cent in the same period last year.

The firm said more than 85 per cent of UK homes and businesses were connected to broadband-enabled exchanges and the figure was expected to reach 90 per cent by summer.

"Currently customers connected to 2,345 exchanges can get broadband and more than 800 are in the process of being upgraded, including those in partnerships," it said.

BT said that more than 700,000 people had signed up with BT's registration plan, which allows it to assess where demand for the technology is strongest, since it set up the scheme in July 2002.

The group it had helped to match investment to demand and has enabled it to roll out broadband at a much faster pace than would otherwise have been possible.

The telecoms industry has about 3.5 million broadband customers in the UK, of which about 43 per cent are served by the networks of cable companies such as NTL and Telewest.

The other 57 per cent is served by BT and other ISPs, who operate through BT's fixed-line network by paying the group for network access on a wholesale basis.