To Infinity and Beyond – The BT Race for Fibre Access

BT is to launch a nationwide survey to see how much potential demand there is for fibre broadband. The survey, the first of its kind, will run until December 31st 2010 enabling communities to express their desire for the service. This will help BT identify “hot spots” where demand is high and influence the company’s future deployment plans.

BT will have brought fibre broadband within reach of four million premises by the end of 2010 but it will still have more than 12 million further premises to reach as part of its plan to deliver fibre broadband to two thirds of the UK by 2015. By participating in the survey, communities will have the opportunity to make their voices heard as the company decides where else to deploy the technology.

As an extra incentive, BT is running the survey as a competition – the “Race to Infinity” – with BT Retail promising funds – if needed – to help enable the five exchanges with the highest demand by early 2012 at the latest. This could see commercially viable exchanges brought forward to the front of the queue or non-viable exchanges added to the deployment plans. BT is also pledging to engage with any community that expresses a high level of demand so that all avenues can be explored to see if fibre broadband can be brought to their area.

Gavin Patterson, BT Retail chief executive said: “The Race to Infinity is an opportunity for the country to make its voice heard. BT will have rolled out fibre to more than four million homes by the end of 2010 but it’ll still have more than 12 million premises to pass by 2015. We want to hear from towns and villages across the UK and so I would encourage people to take part and register their interest.

“The Race will map demand for fibre across the UK and so will help to influence BT’s future deployment plans. BT Retail is also committing funds to help enable the five winning exchanges and so there’s an added incentive for people to vote.”

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “Whenever I travel around the UK I hear the same message: people want access to superfast broadband in their communities. I warmly welcome any initiative that will lead to private sector investment in fibre networks, and applaud the way BT are engaging consumers to ensure that investment reaches the people who want it the most.”

BT pledged in May this year that, subject to there being an acceptable environment for investment, it would spend £2.5 billion on rolling out fibre broadband to two thirds of UK premises by 2015. This is one of the most ambitious fibre programmes in the world that isn’t reliant on public sector support. Such support will be required however for exchanges in the “final third” of the UK where deploying fibre is commercially not viable.

The Race to Infinity will run from early October to the end of December 2010 with the five winning exchanges being enabled by early 2012 at the latest. The competition will be supported by a marketing campaign that will direct participants towards a web page at where they will be able to register their interest in fibre broadband. This will enable BT to contact them as soon as the service is available in their area.

Participants can vote for fibre broadband on the Race to Infinity website, which will show the number and percentage of votes received for each exchange. The site will display the top five exchanges leading the race as exchanges hit 1,000 votes.

The five successful exchanges will be added to BT’s deployment list for late 2011 / early 2012 under Openreach’s exchange nomination scheme. This scheme, which is open to all communications providers (CPs) who are trialling or selling Openreach’s fibre broadband access service, allows CPs to nominate exchanges to be enabled subject to them providing guarantees either about take-up or the necessary gap funding if the exchange is deemed to be non-viable. BT Retail has set aside funds to cover that possibility.

BT Group is also pledging to engage with any community that gathers 75 per cent of possible votes for their exchange but hasn’t won the competition. This is in the hope that those exchanges can either be included in future commercial phases – if the exchange is deemed commercially viable – or enabled as a result of either public sector or community support as has already happened in some parts of the UK.

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