Thought for the day:BT fails to make the connection

BT is missing out on lucrative broadband customers by not teaming up with third-party cable suppliers, Colin Beveridge believes.

BT is missing out on lucrative broadband customers by not teaming up with third-party cable suppliers, Colin Beveridge believes.

Dick Whittington was right - the streets of this country really are paved with gold, if you know where to look. There are millions and millions of pounds just lying there for the taking.

I'm talking about the thousands of miles of installed broadband cabling that is either unused or seriously underused.

Six weeks ago I reached the end of my tether and decided I wasn't going to wait at least another two years for BT to upgrade my local exchange for broadband service. I desperately wanted a higher-speed connection and I needed to reduce my regular quarterly bills.

Which is how I came to discover the "gold" under the footpath. Two years ago, a network provider speculatively cabled the whole neighbourhood but failed to capitalise on its investment because it didn't advertise their service to potential customers like me. If I hadn't spotted the distribution box under an overlapping hedge while walking the dog, I'd have never known it was there.

Two phone calls and seven days later, I had my high-speed broadband connection installed and BT had lost a lucrative customer.

And then the penny dropped. I realised BT might be missing a trick by not exploiting third-party infrastructure to develop its own broadband business.

It's all very well spending zillions on glossy advertising campaigns to generate customer interest in BT broadband - but if BT can't fulfil the broadband promise because of the lack of suitably upgraded local exchanges, then they are wasting their shareholders' money and seriously inhibiting the development of the national technology infrastructure.

So why doesn't BT act as a branded reseller for third-party cable service providers?

This could give them instant access to huge swathes of the country, such as in my neighbourhood, where BT can't provide service through its own network.

Instead of waiting until the local level of demand for broadband justifies an exchange upgrade, which could take many years in some parts of the country, BT could be selling its own branded services on the back of existing third-party infrastructure.

Now isn't that a win-win scenario? The customers are happy to get broadband, BT retains more customers, the cable owners get increased revenue from their speculative investments and the overall value of the national technology infrastructure is enhanced through a larger installed broadband user base.

BT already supplies its ADSL infrastructure through a variety of business partners, which sell what are, effectively, BT products as their own branded subscription services.

It shouldn't be too difficult, given the state of the telecoms market, for BT to cut a good deal with the cable owners. Between them they should be able to turn streets full of unused bandwidth into streets full of gold - and begin to deliver the promise of the glossy broadband ads.

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Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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