BT seeks support for broadband boost

TELECOMS giant BT yesterday announced plans to roll out “super-fast” broadband to as many as 10 million homes by 2012 - and challenged the East of England Development Agency and other local authorities in the region to support the move.

TELECOMS giant BT yesterday announced plans to roll out “super-fast” broadband to as many as 10 million homes by 2012 - and challenged the East of England Development Agency and other local authorities in the region to support the move.

BT's proposed £1.5 billion nation-wide investment in fibre-based services will deliver top speeds of up to 100 Mb/s (megabits per second) with the potential for speeds of more than 1,000 Mb/s in the future.

However, the group said that the investment was dependent on a “supportive and enduring” regulatory environment, and that it was keen to work with local and regional bodies to decide where and when it should focus the deployment of super-fast broadband.

Although traditional copper-based connections offer sufficient speed for services such as high definition television, fibre-optic networks will allow several such operations simultaneously. For example, some members of a family could in future be watching different high definition movies while others are gaming or working on complex graphics or video projects.

The new super-fast network will also offer substantially improved “upstream” speeds, which allow customers to post videos or use high definition video conferencing.

To help fund the programme, BT plans to halt a share buyback programme under which it has so far returned more than £1.8 billion to shareholders out of a planned total of £2.5 billion.

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However, BT said it planned discussions with regulator Ofcom to determine the framework it believes is necessary to enable the programme to progress.

“These include removing current barriers to investment and making sure that anyone who chooses to invest in fibre can earn a fair rate of return for their shareholders,” BT added.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) welcomed the announcement and called on Ofcom to move quickly to create a regulatory framework that both enables large-scale investment and ensures effective competition.

BSG chief executive Antony Walker said: “There has been a question mark hanging over the UK telecoms sector for the last 18 months about how we move to next generation broadband.

“Today's announcement is by no means the whole answer - there are still questions about the regulatory framework and how we extend services to more rural areas - but it is a very significant step forward.”

Ofcom said it planned to publish further proposals on the regulatory framework for next generation access networks in September.

BT said it would focus its investment in places where there was a strong public sector interest in partnering with BT and using the new services.

Peter McCarthy-Ward, BT director for the East of England, said: “The East of England is already a tremendous broadband success story and this is a great opportunity for the region to be on the front page of the next chapter of that story.

“BT is keen to invest further in the East of England so it is important that the East of England public sector works with us to ensure the funds are directed to our region.

“We are keen to partner with people who share our vision for the next phase of the broadband revolution, and we look forward to discussing with our East of England partners ways we might work together to ensure super-fast broadband is built when and where it is most needed.”

Mr McCarthy-Ward added: “Our aim is that urban and rural areas alike will benefit from our investment so this is a big opportunity for all parts of the region. Broadband has boosted the East of England economy and is an essential part of our customers' lives. We now want to make a step-change in broadband provision which will offer faster speeds than ever before.”

An EEDA spokesman said yesterday: “EEDA welcomes the announcement and we will be working with BT and our partners to understand the opportunities for the East of England.

“It is crucially important for the region that it maintains its competitive advantage in the availability and use of next generation services and that these services are available throughout the region at affordable prices.”