BT Exceeds 15 Million Broadband Customers

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BT has notched up its 15 millionth broadband customer, but problems with nation-wide rollout and below-par speeds are still causing headaches

Telecoms giant BT today announced it has signed up the 15 millionth user to its high-speed broadband network.

The company claims it has added 14.8 million connections in just eight years, equating to an average of 5,000 new connections a day. Together with Virgin Media’s 4.2 million customers, more than 19 million premises in the UK – or 71 percent of the country – now use broadband, according to Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report.

BT claims the milestone of 15 million was passed in late August, with more than five million of those connections being made via BT’s retail arm. According to figures from OECD Portal 2010, broadband penetration in the UK is now higher than in France, Germany and the US.

Broadband Britain

This is an important milestone for the ‘Broadband Britain’ project, with high-profile figures like the government’s ‘digital champion’ Martha Lane Fox and culture secretary Jeremy Hunt working to close the digital divide in Britain.

“Broadband Britain has been a success story with widespread availability, low prices and high take up,” said BT strategy director Olivia Garfield. “People were sceptical when BT backed broadband in 2002 but the figures speak for themselves.”

Earlier this month, it emerged that Lane Fox has been given no budget by the government to get the last remaining ten million Brits online before the end of 2012. “There is no money and we don’t need it to make a big stride forward,” Lane Fox said at the time. “There is a massive amount you can do. You can make big inroads into that 10 million number without having to spend money.”

However, Lane Fox is facing an uphill struggle, due to ongoing difficulties with the rollout of broadband in the UK. About three million households (mostly in rural areas) still cannot get 2Mbps broadband, and around one percent of the country (160,000 UK homes) cannot get broadband over phone lines at all.

Back in June, Jeremy Hunt announced that the government’s plan to roll out 2Mbps broadband to all British homes by 2012 has been delayed until 2015. Hunt blamed the previous government for setting a target that could not be met with the resources available.

Uphill struggle

Meanwhile, a report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that 9.2 million adults in the UK have never accessed the Internet. The research showed that the majority of over-65s never surf the web, and 45 percent of those without formal qualifications had never tried it either.

“When adults were asked why their household did not have an Internet connection, the most common response was that they didn’t need it, at 39 percent, followed by 21 percent who said a lack of skills prevented them from having the Internet,” said the ONS.

But even those that can and want to access the Internet may not be getting the speeds they are promised by their service providers. Ofcom recently admonished providers for continuing to advertise speeds which consumers were not able to receive. BT has been rapped over the knuckles twice this month by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over its broadband speed claims.

The most recent ‘State of the Internet’ report by content management firm Akamai found that Brits had an average broadband speed of 3.8Mbps.

“The story doesn’t end here as BT is now investing a further £2.5 billion to roll out fibre broadband to two thirds of the UK,” said BT’s Olivia Garfield. “This will help the UK climb the league tables for speeds, one of the few areas in which we don’t lead the world.”

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