Monday, October 04, 2010

BT's Race to Infinity...your exchange needs you!


BT's Race to Infinity scheme (BBC coverage here) provides an interesting contrast to the DIY approach to next generation broadband that was so much in evidence at Rory Stewart's Rural Broadband Conference last month.

The scheme echoes the demand registration scheme BT established for first-generation broadband, where individuals could register their interest in having their exchange upgraded. If sufficient did so, meeting BT's trigger level, the exchange would be upgraded. This scheme is a bit different, in that BT has committed to enable the five exchanges showing the highest demand with FTTC services, rather than any exchange which meets its trigger level. The competition runs until the end of the year, with winning exchanges being enabled in early 2012, "subject to availability, survey, terms and conditions".

This caveat is also interesting: "Exchanges need 1,000 premises votes to be eligible to be one of the winning exchanges". Which rather excludes rural areas with exchanges serving considerably less than 1,000 premises, such as this one serving 60 residential and 10 non-residential premises. I would imagine that given the closeness of such communities, it would be relatively easy to ensure almost 100% voting (by going and knocking on doors, for example), whereas it's much harder to secure an equivalent level of support larger areas where 1,000 or more votes will be required. But while it's arguable that remote, small rural communities have the most to gain from the technology, my guess is that the chosen technology approach (FTTC) won't help rural areas much anyway, given the likely distances involved.

BT does offer some consolation to such communities. If you enter the postcode (KW11 6UB) of the exchange I mentioned above into BT's site, you get the following message:
"Sorry, but your exchange is not eligible to WIN The Race to Infinity as it has less than 1000 premises. We still want you to get involved so please go to 'VOTE NOW' to express your interest. If 75% of your exchange registers, BT will engage with your community to see what we can do in your area."
So worth voting all the same perhaps? The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones makes a similar observation on his blog, and poses an interesting question about what happens if there is significant interest in the scheme:
"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...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."
I did my bit for my community earlier today, in a (not very) remote part of rural North Warwickshire:


Needless to say, as the first of potentially 1,387 votes (or 0.07% of the total possible vote), I'm not holding my breath.

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