BT speeds broadband roll-out ahead of Ofcom review findings

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The Independent Online

BT Group is to speed up the delivery of broadband internet services to cover more rural areas by next summer.

BT Group is to speed up the delivery of broadband internet services to cover more rural areas by next summer.

The company said its eagerness to upgrade the country's telephone exchanges with broadband capability had nothing to do with an announcement today from Ofcom, the industry regulator. Ofcom is due to announce a wide ranging consultation on the telecoms industry, which will consider BT's future including a possible split of its retail business and its wholesale business, which owns the infrastructure network.

BT said yesterday that by next summer exchanges covering 99.6 per cent of the country would be equipped to provide high speed, broadband internet services to households and businesses. The figure compares with 85 per cent today.

BT's announcement of further network upgrades coincided with a stepping up in the battle for broadband customers. France Telecom unveiled the re-branding of its Freeserve operation to the Wanadoo brand and the launch of a £17.99 a month broadband service.

BT itself offers a £19.99 a month service through its BT Retail division while Telewest, the cable company, also upgraded its service this week. Telewest is now offering as standard a 750Kbps service from £25 a month compared with the Wanadoo service, for example, which offers the slower 512Kbps speed as standard.

However, despite the increasing competition among broadband suppliers, take-up of the high-speed internet services is still slow.

A BT spokeman said yesterday: "In areas such as London take-up is about 10 per cent of households. The huge challenge for us now, and for everyone else in the industry, is to come up with compelling products."

BT said it was now able to upgrade a further 1,128 exchanges, having been able to track demand for broadband services since July 2002 when it began a trigger scheme that matched investment with expected uptake.

The company rejected criticism that it had been slow in rolling out broadband capabilities and that its upgrade programme for exchanges had been designed to suit its own business purposes rather than those of rival broadband service suppliers or consumers' needs. "This commitment puts us ahead of every other country in the G7 group of leading economies as far as broadband roll-out is concerned so I would reject that criticism," the BT spokesman said. The only areas of the UK that would not be able to access broadband internet services were mountainous areas in the Scottish Highlands.

Figures from the OECD due in the next two weeks are expected to show that the US has 75 per cent broadband coverage and Japan and Germany as much as 90 per cent.