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BT's high-fibre race

Rory Cellan-Jones | 08:37 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010

Do you and your neighbours have a need for speed? Are you desperate to get fibre-based broadband to your community? Well, now you can do something about it by heading to this site - The Race to Infinity - and registering your interest.

BT's competition to find the places in the UK most eager to leap into the fast fibre future could play a useful role in determining just how much need there really is for speed, particularly in the third of the country where the market will not provide.

It may also spark a backlash against the company on which much of the burden of hoisting the UK up Europe's broadband speed league falls. (Remember, the government has promised that we will have the best super-fast broadband in Europe by the end of this Parliament.)

The Race to Infinity could look a bit like one of those TV contests with fabulous prizes that are almost impossible to win.

Back at the dawn of time - well, the beginning of the noughties - BT ran a similar exercise to gauge public interest in getting bog standard broadband. I remember visiting Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland where there was a vigorous campaign to get the local exchange broadband enabled.

A few months later, enough people had registered an interest to trigger the automatic upgrading of the Ullapool exchange. That was how it worked - reach the trigger level and, as long as you did not live too many miles from the exchange, you were able to get a broadband connection.

This time, getting your community into the fast lane will be a bit more complicated than just persuading your neighbours to sign up on the site. BT is being cautious, promising only that the five exchanges with the highest proportion of sign-ups will get fibre laid by 2012.

It's clear already that the Race to Infinity is sparking interest. I went to the site early this morning and found the map already lighting up with dots all over the UK where people had entered their postcode to find out whether they might get fibre soon. Against a number of the pinpoints, from Drochil Castle in the Scottish Borders to Elmsted in Kent, there was the following message:

What strikes me is that the very communities which seem most likely to enter this competition - at least from the evidence so far - are those smaller, more remote, places which are not eligible to win it. Now, to be fair, this is by no means the only way that BT and others are attempting to get the "final third" connected.

Last week we saw the announcement of the public/private partnership between BT and the EU which promises to bring high speed broadband to Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. And we're expecting to hear imminently which three places the government has chosen for its next generation broadband trial.

What about Ullapool and its chances of getting the kind of service that will be commonplace in urban areas within a couple of years? I found an Ullapool postcode, stuck it in the Race to Infinity box - and back came the message about the exchange having too few residents to be eligible.

Maybe BT's exercise will show that it is only a handful of enthusiasts who really care about super-fast broadband in rural communities. If the competition really does catch the imagination of the public, then the pressure will mount on both BT and the government to make sure that nobody is left trailing behind in the race to a faster future.


  • Comment number 1.

    This exercise is massively more limited than the previous trigger level scheme for getting ADSL into exchanges - we're only talking about *five* exchanges in the whole of the UK here, so it's effectively a sharpest elbows / shout loudest competition to get your exchange up the pecking order a bit.

    Some of the remoter areas would benefit from a different approach to BT Infinity where ADSL is made available from remote street cabinets, unfortunately BT only offer the faster VDSL with connection speeds from 15-40 Mbits/s and someone who could get 6 or 8M will actually be denied the service.

    Rutland Telecom and others are at least providing the full range of xDSL services on their fibre to the cabinet projects so that everyone can benefit from the effective reduction in their local loop length.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is all just PR.
    If winning is limited to large exchanges then I expect that BT already have a pretty good idea of the "winners" already. From a political aspect I expect one each in London, Scotland, Wales, Midlands and North West.
    The North East will miss out so that Salford can be covered.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think that the emphasis in your article Rory, and in BT's and other suppliers advertising, on speed is actually a bit incorrect.

    I wouldn't mind more speed, but then in fact I used to have it a couple of years ago it's just that since 2009's February snow and ice my line has lost 2/3rds of it's speed due to some sort of damage over its 4km run. Unfortunately, BT's fault threshold for my line is about 100 kilobits below the speed that it has settled at, so I can't get it fixed despite me having only about 1/3rd of the speed I had since MaxDSL appeared in 2006.

    Fibre would fix this, it would be much more difficult for a fault to cause reduced speeds as the copper segment would be short and the fibre section either works or it doesn't and one repair restores everyone's service.

    I shall be registering my interest, if it's like last time it should only take 3 years for anything to happen! We'll be a 4th world country by then....

  • Comment number 4.

    It's all rather farcical, our town is hosting Olympic events in 2010 (sailing/windsurfing etc), and the state of broadband network here is pathetic, with no LLU, no BT competition, let alone fibreoptic.

    Come 2012 the infrastructure will be falling over due to neglect.

  • Comment number 5.

    I wont be able to enter the race as my exchange is scheduled for upgrade in Dec. However my line is one of several that isnt upgradable to fibre on that exchange.
    So I'll have to wait until they finish the first rollout and hopefully a second phase will mop up people who arent covered although the exchange will have been upgraded.
    I live nr Canary Wharf and can only get 2MB/s broadband - go figure
    I'm guessing the wait will be another year at least... :(

  • Comment number 6.

    It's a good publicity campaign for BT but they have already said that the last "Final Third" of homes and businesses will still need "support" (presumably public funds) to reach. So you can't help but ask, what's new?

  • Comment number 7.

    It's not just additional speed that is required but symmetry. Increasingly, as more demanding applications are deployed over the internet, upload speed is becoming as important as download speed. Only fibre to the home (FttH) delivers true symmetrical Next Generation Access. Are BT offering this or is copper still a key component of their offering?

  • Comment number 8.

    Although my exchange (Reading South) is now ready for delivery of Infinity Speeds - the BT emails say that I can have speeds of up to 40MB download! However, when you actually make equiries, they will still only give a max of 15.8MB down and 7.5MB up for my number.

    Yes that is much faster than I have now, but for a price increase of 50% and no warranty the speeds will stay at those quoted.

    Yes we are getting there, but it's still taking far too long.

  • Comment number 9.

    Have registered my vote for Bradwell Abbey exchnage in Milton Keynes.

    It is true that a Fibre to the Premises trial is underway here but only a small percentage of the number of people connected to this exchange are able to take part, which means the majority of the exchange has to wait and see...while the other exchanges in the local area (Stony Stratford, Wolverton and Bletchley) will be activated by December, Newport Pagnell is live, but Woburn Sands has missed out which covers the bottom south east corner.

    Vote vote vote!

  • Comment number 10.

    What an unfair way of dishing it out.

    We in the LD1 area are stuck with BT(marekt 1) as the only provider on our exchange, & as there are only 3410 residential & 282 non residential properties... All of us voting is not going to put us at the top of the list.

    How about BT either open our exchange or provide us with a service such as this.. or would it be too much trouble for them to give us a competitively priced service for once.

  • Comment number 11.

    Yes - have a look at [Personal details removed by Moderator] current response. 10- and I expect many more - out of 38 subscribers. That's already over 26%.
    I realise - and we are told by BT - they will not give us a super-fast fibre link. However, we may well be able to get them to improve our measly slow half MB if we come top of the UK percentage-wise!
    In many ways it IS the remote communities that need the fastest links.
    Dave, [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 12.

    It's a joke, isn't it?
    I live in mid Wales and did manage to vote but a friend in the area writes, "Tried [to vote], but the website has so much Flash and other bells and whistles that it froze my browser over a low-speed connection. Nice one BT - top prize for irony!"

    BT know exactly how many customers they have on any exchange and just how much it will cost to upgrade. Hiding their roll-out behind a supposedly democratic process won't fool anyone, will it?

  • Comment number 13.

    I like the unwritten entry prerequisites:

    1. Access to some form of internet connection, as it seem the only way to register your vote is on 'The Race to Infinity' website.
    2. Sufficient bandwidth and/or time to enable you to connect to and use a website that is heavily flash based.
    3. A sufficiently reliable internet connection (ie. doesn't suffer from connection timeouts) to enable you to fully traverse the process necessary to register your vote.

    So if you are living in a Broadband Notspot (see ), which effectively puts your community/area into " the third of the country where the market will not provide", you stand little chance of winning.

    So I agree with the others who regard this as a PR exercise.
    However, living in a broadband notspot, I also regard this as a spoiler to discourage communities from going their own way, like Rutland, as it gives false hope that BT will deliver Internet access:
    at 100Mbps upload and download
    at 100 pounds per annum
    to 100 percent of the country
    before 2015.

  • Comment number 14.

    This so annoys me. It is just smoke and mirrors. Just because an exchange is enabled does *NOT* mean you can get it. Livingston Station for instance, only some parts have had FTTC cabinets rolled out (and of course I am in an area that does not have it). So not only do I not have FTTC I have no way of finding out when I am likely to get it. Frustrating is just not a strong enough word.
    From BTs website
    (Please note that whilst your exchange is enabled, not all premises will be able to get BT Infinity. If this is the case, please register your interest on and BT will use it to influence our future roll out plans.)
    It makes me so angry I could throw the phone down.........

  • Comment number 15.

    It's from BT therefore it is a sick joke.

    When will the overpaid underperformers in BT get with the program? I guess they are too busy ripping off governement and consumers to care about delivering effective national service.

    Lets all make a deal in media world - ignore BT because the never have anything new to say and are just soooo boring!

  • Comment number 16.

    "Here's a quick positions update on The Race To Infinity:

    1. Bermondsey, London
    2. Bishopsgate, London
    3. Canonbury, London
    4. Clerkenwell, London
    5. Covent Garden, London"

    So predictable.

  • Comment number 17.

    I live in what could be called "suburbs", near Stourbridge in the West Midlands. I currently get "up to 10 mbps" broadband and this is more than sufficient, and is the same for most of the people i know around the area i live.
    Some people want super fast broadband, just because it's new and faster, but most aren't bothered in the slightest...

    I think like you said, most people registering would be from rural areas who have rubbish speeds or non at all.

  • Comment number 18.

    Scarily, I just checked and I was #29 to sign up out of a possible 39534 on my local exchange...

    I've just sent an e-mail to my local newspaper, see if they might pick up on it.

  • Comment number 19.

    I don't see the point in registering a "vote" for my exchange when I've been told we're not eligible to win it. The exchange is of so little financial relevance that the chances of anyone, let alone BT, coming out here is probably less than minimal.

    I'm one of the lucky ones within spitting distance of the exchange but there are plenty who are not.

  • Comment number 20.

    As of Friday afternoon - after just five days - our 'non-eligible' community has now passed the 75% mark. So what happens now?


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