Though many people assume broadband will be available anywhere within the nation, there are corners of the UK where the broadband dream remains just that.
Right now, 74 of BT's 5,591 exchanges still provide no form of ADSL; 37 of them, serving about 6,600 premises, have a date for when they'll be enabled - ranging from last month to September.
But BT has decided that the other 37 exchanges will not be enabled for ADSL; they are "unviable". The number of households affected is small, but the areas include places such as Selsted in Kent and a cluster of households in the E16 postcode - southeast of London City airport. (And the Outer Hebrides remain badly served.)
If you want to know which exchanges are on the "unviable" list, see www.adslguide.org.uk and www.samknows.com/broadband. The SamKnows site also provides a wide range of maps.
What is the plan for areas where BT or the Regional Development Agencies have not done something? To wait for BT to roll out its much-hyped 21st Century Network. This may see every exchange enabled for broadband; but another problem remains, which affects around 0.4% of households across the UK - ADSL is "distance limited". Its range varies according to cable thickness and other factors - the longer the line, the slower the speed of service possible. Of the 8 million premises that have applied for ADSL, around 32,000 have no service. (The line length put paid to the hopes of people in E16.)
So what about "Max ADSL" and the "up to 8 megabits per second" that BT has trumpeted for the past few weeks? Unfortunately, not all exchanges providing an ADSL service will provide this faster service. There are 235 exchanges, mostly in Scotland, that will offer only a basic 0.5Mbps service no matter how close you live to the exchange.
This is referred to as an "Exchange Activate" exchange, a basic ADSL service designed to be used where a full ADSL service would be too expensive to install.
Another point rarely mentioned is that to get the full speed you need a short telephone line. The communications regulator Ofcom estimates that around 20% of UK lines are less than 2km long, and so will probably give a full "8Mbps" download speed. Around 80% of lines are under 5km in length, and so should achieve speeds of 2 to 3Mbps. For web browsing the difference isn't critical, but if video over broadband becomes popular that speed differential may mean the difference between seeing high-quality video live, or waiting for a show to download first.
Openreach, the BT division that looks after its telephone lines, recently announced a £1 billion upgrade for the UK telephone network. What's not clear is what is being upgraded. The moral is, while ADSL availability is more widespread than mains sewage or gas, checking the availability is worthwhile. Especially if buying in Selsted or London E16.
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