BT's high-fibre race
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.