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BT in sprint for fast broadband

21 декабря 2009

BT is accelerating the roll-out of its superfast broadband network to ensure the infrastructure is completed in time for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Britain’s broadband speeds lag behind those of many industrialised countries and BT is under pressure from Labour and the Conservatives to fix the problem. The UK’s largest fixed-line phone company is planning to spend £1.5bn on a new broadband network based on optical fibre, but it will run past only 40 per cent of homes, mainly in towns and cities.

BT said last year it could take until March 2013 to build the urban-focused network, but, following successful trials, it now intends to finish it by June 2012. The Olympics start the following month. The new network will increase broadband download speeds 10-fold, to about 40 megabits per second, to cope with the rise of bandwidth-hungry services such as high-definition video.

Ian Livingston, BT’s chief executive, is hoping the network can be a new source of much-needed growth, and he raised the possibility that the company could build a limited extension so that it runs past more than 40 per cent of properties.

But in a thinly veiled reference to the Conservatives, he said BT needed clarity from politicians on whether there would be a government subsidy to ensure the network becomes a nationwide infrastructure.

Mr Livingston said: “We need our politicians to decide how much of a priority fibre broadband is. BT is the only company currently planning to invest large sums in this area but we can only go so far with our shareholders’ money.”

He also highlighted how the Australian, French and US governments were providing financial support for their broadband networks.

There is a significant risk that high-speed broadband networks will largely bypass rural areas, given that BT and Virgin Media, its main competitor, are focused on towns and cities.

The government’s Digital Britain initiative is proposing a £6 per year tax on fixed-line phone connections to help fund the expansion of superfast networks to rural areas.

The levy could raise £175m per year, and BT is the front-runner to benefit from the tax, together with Virgin. However, the Conservatives have said they could abolish the levy if they win the general election, which must be held by June.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow cabinet member leading the Tory response to the government’s Digital Britain agenda, described BT’s network plan as “inadequate” given that it will cover only 40 per cent of homes.

He said the Tories would consider the case for government subsidy for superfast broadband networks, but only after seeing how far market-led investment could take the infrastructure.

Источник: Financial Times

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