Four in five homes have access to broadband

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BT boasted yesterday that four out of every five homes in the UK could now get high-speed broadband services - a similar amount to the number of homes connected to the mains gas network - after it opened up more of its telephone exchanges.

Paul Reynolds, chief executive of the telecoms group's wholesale division, said: "We have now brought broadband services to exchanges serving 80 per cent of UK homes.... This month we'll have as many people connected to exchanges offering broadband as can switch on their mains gas cooker to make the supper."

The move also means that BT's chief executive, Ben Verwaayen, will now be able to get broadband in his home since his local exchange in Haslemere, Surrey, has now been enabled.

Mr Verwaayen, who pledged to put broadband at the heart of BT when he arrived at the company a year and a half ago, had to wait in line for broadband services. He said earlier this year it would have been "dead wrong" to use his position to jump the queue by having his local exchange upgraded.

Mr Reynolds said: "By July last year our broadband rollout programme had reached exchanges serving two-thirds of UK homes.... Tomorrow, when the latest 25 exchanges are switched live for ADSL, we will have delivered high-speed internet services to exchanges covering more than 80 per cent of homes. And we're not stopping there."

Under BT's broadband scheme, introduced in July last year to gauge the level of interest in the service, about 250 people had to register demand for the product before the company would upgrade the exchanges. Mr Reynolds said: "More than half a million people have registered their interest in getting broadband through our registration scheme, 900 exchanges have hit their demand trigger, more than 500 of these are live for broadband and the rest are in the process of being upgraded." He added: "This has brought us to 80 per cent coverage two years ahead of earlier expectation - a great achievement."

BT announced in June that it had recently hit the first of the broadband targets set out by Mr Verwaayen last year when it signed up its one millionth high-speed internet customer. In February last year, when the targets were set, BT had just 145,000 subscribers. Mr Verwaayen says the company remains on course to get 5 million users by 2006.

There are now just over 2 million broadband users in the UK in total, including about one million cable customers using NTL and Telewest. Of BT's 1.25 million users, more than 50 per cent use either the company's BT Retail or BT Openworld products. The balance are connected on BT lines through about 130 other internet service providers such as AOL and Freeserve.

Separately, BT says it is making its SDSL broadband products more widely available. The services have been trialled at 100 exchanges and are now being extended to another 50.