BT fibre plan set to increase UK digital divide

A new BT scheme that will allow Internet service providers to nominate which telephone exchanges they think should get fibre first has come under fire from critics, who claim it will increase the UK's digital divide.

BT Openreach is to run a trial of its Fibre Nomination Scheme until December. The scheme will allow existing BT wholesale customers such as large ISPs to name up to six exchanges where they'd like to see fibre enabled.

Nominated exchanges should be connected up by the end of next year.

BT is looking to reduce the financial risks involved in rolling out super-fast fibre broadband across the UK, and critics say the strict commercial guarantees that ISPs are being asked to sign up to make it unlikely that they'll nominate anywhere but the most profitable, densely-populated areas - leaving remote rural 'not spots' more disadvantaged than ever.

"If an exchange is deemed to be viable for commercial deployment, the provider must guarantee that 10 per cent of premises will be using its fibre broadband within a year. If this doesn't happen, the content provider will be liable for any costs incurred by Openreach in amending its deployment plan," BT Openreach said in its announcement on Friday.

Companies may also be asked to foot the bill for a detailed survey of exchanges deemed not commercially viable, at a cost of £5,000 per exchange.

Rob Bamforth, principal analyst with research firm Quocirca, told tech news site IT PRO: "This will only move us further towards deployments that are the most commercially viable... The communications providers are only going to go where they see the lowest hanging fruit, and with the financial pressures of this scheme that will only get worse."

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