I have been campaigning for the roll-out of Broadband by BT, so more of my constituents can benefit from this high-speed internet service. I welcome the fact that those who live in Andover can access ADSL, as can those who live in Tadley - whose exchange I visited last week to mark the expansion of the service. I am also pleased that BT have reduced the wholesale price of ADSL so it is more affordable.
A few weeks ago, I was told that BT would encourage me to register my demand for ADSL to be provided via my local (rural) exchange and that if enough people around that exchange would commit to ADSL, BT would do the necessary. Sadly, my delight only lasted as long as it took to visit the BT site on July 1st, when it opened, to find that there seem to be gaping holes in the process.
First, there is still a mystery about which exchanges BT has in its sights. You can enter your phone number and maybe you will be told how many users BT wants in order to "trigger" ADSL in your area. But note the "maybe". In my case, and in some of the other villages in North West Hants such as Overton, Whitchurch, Kingsclere and Oakley, it appears that our exchanges are not yet in BT's sights. Their earlier press release suggested that they would publish a list of the targeted exchanges but I have not been able to find this.
Second, BT encouraged me to "pre-register" for ADSL via my Internet Services Provider. They even provided a list of providers who are in the ADSL business. So I clicked on mine - which happens to be AoL, one of the biggest in the business, and frequently (irritatingly!) exhorting me to take up ADSL. If only!
Sadly, another disappointment. The "Contact AoL" link pops up a form to complete, but the form shows no sign of awareness of the BT pre-registration campaign; it simply suggests that I send a message to AoL. Clicking on the link to AoL's website, I saw no mention of the pre-registration scheme.
Third, diligent research suggests that AoL are not alone in this - even BT's own Retail arm adds to the mystery of pre-registration rather than making the way clear.
If - for competition reasons - BT's wholesale broadband arm can't directly solicit the names and numbers of those of us crying out for ADSL in our villages, at least they should take the trouble to encourage and link to a clear message on each ISP's linked page, together with a simple form we can use and which makes it clear we are pre-registering for broadband rather than the present somewhat obscure "email your supplier". Any ISP who doesn't provide such a clear route to registration shouldn't be linked. Including BT Retail and BT OpenWorld!
Some industry insiders have suggested to me that BT are only going through the motions - they suggest that the numbers required to justify ADSL-enabling an exchange are set too high; the registration process is deliberately obscure; BT want to give the impression of enthusiasm for wider roll-out but are in reality happy to keep it slow. I prefer the alternative conclusion - that at the top of BT there is a real committment to "Broadband Britain" but a gap between the strategic intention and an understanding of what is needed to make it a reality. Either way the launch of their pre-registration scheme leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps it should only be one cheer.