BT forges on with fibre roll-out but customer uptake weak

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BT forges on with fibre roll-out but customer uptake weak

Caroline Baldwin

BT is rolling out fibre optic broadband across the UK at a steady pace, but only 15% of fibre-ready premises have signed up for the superfast internet service.

BT now offers fibre optic broadband to over 20 million premises in the UK. In the company’s annual operating results, BT said it had added 341,000 premises to the fibre-optic broadband network over the quarter ending 30 June 2014. This was an increase of 29% on the amount the company added last year.

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But only 15% (3 million) of the homes and businesses eligible for BT fibre have signed up to the network. This last quarter the company added 226,000 customers to its network.

Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT, said the company had made a good start to the year.

“Our fibre broadband network now covers more than twenty million premises. We are passing over 70,000 additional premises each week and demand is strong with more than three million already signed up. We have announced a further 2,500 new jobs in recent months to support our strategic investments in fibre and customer service.”

BT revenues decline

Meanwhile, BT’s revenues fell 2% this quarter, compared to the same period the year before, to £4.4bn. Pre-tax profits rose 7% to £638m.

BT Global Services, BT Business and BT Wholesale all declined in revenue, while its consumer business grew 10% to £1bn partly due to its popular BT Sport TV offering. The company said it now has 19,000 pubs, clubs, hotels and other commercial premises signed up to the TV channel.

Revenues from BT Global Services declined 6% to £1.6bn, BT Business 3% to £762m, while turnover in its wholesale division dropped 18% to £525m.

From its business division it saw a 2% drop in revenue from IT services, which it said was driven by lower hardware sales. Meanwhile, SME and corporate voice revenues decreased 4%, while the number of business telephone lines decreased 8%, reflecting the business uptake of internet calls and VoIP services.

Last month, thousands of BT customers across the country were left without internet access on the morning of Saturday 28 June 2014 after a mystery “network incident” brought down its service in many parts of the country.

Users complained of being unable to access most major websites, including social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as Amazon and eBay, and online banking services. Many turned to 3G and 4G mobile internet services to vent their anger.

Rural broadband

BT is at the centre of some controversy over the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas.

The government's Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, run by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), has the goal of bringing superfast broadband to 95% of the population by 2017. It has split the country into 44 areas and the relevant local authorities are working with the one provider accredited for rolling out the technology, BT, to figure out their plans.

By the end of July 2013, 29 councils had already signed contracts with the telecoms firm and BDUK, BT and the local authority have details of where the fibre would reach – and where it would not.

However, little of the information about these locations has been published, keeping residents and businesses in the dark over whether they will have access and delaying smaller, local providers from deploying their own networks to bring superfast broadband to areas left out of the BDUK project.

But research by thinkbroadband.com warned that the government is likely to miss the 2017 deadline.

The organisation listed the Shetland Islands, Herefordshire, Aberdeenshire and Moray as just some of the areas that are still expected to receive poor broadband speeds by 2017. Meanwhile, just 23.1% of the City of London is expected to be superfast, which is a lot lower than the 99.2% of the Borough of Merton in south London.

Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Brighton and Hove will be among the 10 best parts of the UK for superfast coverage.

Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com said: “Rural districts will not feature in the top 10 best broadband locations. These rural places will still be the poorer cousins to the bigger cities and this will undoubtedly have an impact on the growth of small businesses within these areas.”

“Many people have seen the repeated announcements about rural broadband investment. In reality, the pressure to ensure value for money and the limited pot of funding means the improvements are going on in areas where it is cheapest to provide the upgrades, rather than starting with the hardest and slowest areas.”


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