Business chiefs in BT broadband plea

BUSINESS chiefs have called for telecoms giant BT to roll out high-speed broadband internet access across Suffolk after the firm reported pre-tax profits of around £500m.

BUSINESS chiefs have called for telecoms giant BT to roll out high-speed broadband internet access across Suffolk after the firm reported pre-tax profits of around £500m.

Industry leaders say a lack of broadband, a quicker and easier way of accessing the internet, is hampering many firms in rural parts of Suffolk.

But, in the wake of BT's financial statement yesterday, they said the time has come for the company to upgrade its exchanges so people do not have to rely on slow dial-up connections.

BT reported a 56% rise in first quarter pre-tax profits, £502 million in the three months to June 30 - up from £322 million last time.

Bob Feltwell, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said the future of businesses in Suffolk is dependent upon broadband access.

"It's something that businesses cannot avoid wanting if they want to prosper.

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"We certainly hope that BT will be ploughing back as much as those profits as they can in making sure Suffolk is a broadband county," he said.

"We hope this leads the way to bigger investment of broadband in Suffolk. It will have a direct impact on business efficiency, especially small businesses working from home, as well as the economy."

Shadow trade and industry secretary Tim Yeo, MP for South Suffolk, said some businesses in Suffolk were at a disadvantage because they did not have access at present.

He added: "I would like to see BT accelerate roll out of broadband. I am pleased they are returning to good levels of profit. It would now be very helpful to a lot of businesses and some individuals in rural areas if broadband was available."

BT Wholesales spokesman Francis King said during the first phase of broadband introduction last summer, the company had set up exchanges in larger town areas like Stowmarket, Mildenhall, Haverhill, Lowestoft and Felixstowe.

Since last year the company had set up 10 further exchanges. Three in Kesgrave, Hadleigh, and Woodbridge are up and running.

The remaining seven, which include Belstead, Bures, Brandon and Hadleigh, are due to be switched on in the next three months, he said.

BT has set a further 18 areas trigger levels and if there is enough demand, these areas will also have access to broadband.

Mr King said: "We have set a framework to get to 90% of the UK's homes and businesses, depending on where the real demand is, including lots of small market towns and more rural areas. We are sharing the commitment. If we can see the local demand there we will make the investment."

WilGibson, chief executive of rural pressure group charity Suffolk ACRE said: "BT is a private company and as a result the infrastructure doesn't really make it productive for the private sector," he said.

"I think businesses in rural areas are disadvantaged. If we take what the Government says about wanting a modern, knowledge-based economy, this must include rural areas and at the moment we don't have the infrastructure."