BT Infinity – Infinitely Unavailable?

Yesterday I got an email from BT, once again extolling the virtues of BT Infinity* and inviting me to sign up. As I am a BT customer – which is why they had my email – it wouldn’t have been too difficult to check that BT Infinity is not available where I live.

(*For those of you outside the UK, this is (privatised) British Telecom’s optical-fibre based network).

I tweeted about this and “BT Care” got in touch and asked me to “chat” with them. I foolishly wasted my time contacting them for an on-line chat. The short version of the chat was, sorry, but although your local exchange has Infinity optical fibre, and your local DP (Distribution Point) does too, it hasn’t been ‘enabled’ yet and there’s no date for when it will be. Can I escalate this and lobby for a quicker availability – no, I can’t. They have no obligation to provide this service to the whole country and I can get lost (to be fair, they didn’t say ‘get lost’ but that’s what it felt like).

Way back in the early 1980s I was, believe it or not, a telecoms engineer working for British Telecom. I was also Branch Secretary of Westminster Branch of the Post Office Engineers Union (POEU) and heavily engaged with the changes starting to convulse the whole of computing, telecoms and broadcasting industry.

No-one back then foresaw what would happen with the Internet, but one thing was pretty obvious. The main interactive way of getting telecoms into homes and businesses would be an optical fibre network. It was also pretty obvious that the provision of such a network would be a ‘natural monopoly’ – i.e. it would be pretty pointless having more than one cable going into anyone’s home or business. Finally it was also starting to become obvious that the potential for moving all sorts of services onto such a network were immense – apart from voice it could carry broadcast media, commerce, and anything else that could be digitised.

The obvious solution was to have a single national carrier responsible for setting up and maintaining the ‘information superhighway’, which is what it was already starting to be called. And then the traffic over the network could be opened up to competition. BT was about to start making huge savings by jumping from 1st generation telephone switching equipment (Strowger) to 4th generation computerised “System X” exchanges, which would mean it could probably fund such a “wire Britain” project.

Instead of taking this obvious route the Thatcher government decided to privatise BT; allow TV cable companies to dig up roads all over the country so that many homes would end up with both TV and BT cables; and regulate the privatised BT in such a way that it never had the resources or incentives to wire the country with optical fibre.

The result: we are still waiting for optical fibre across much of the country. I live on the edge of the Manchester conurbation, on a reasonably prosperous new-build estate, and we can’t get BT Infinity or even a date when they might make it available. And BT Infinity doesn’t even provide optical fibre to the premises, only as far as you local DP (distribution point). Despite the current hype from BT and the government, we are lagging far behind many other countries in providing a proper information superhighway. How much longer will we have to wait before we have a government prepared to get a grip of this?


7 thoughts on “BT Infinity – Infinitely Unavailable?

  1. “Instead of taking this obvious route the Thatcher government decided to privatise BT; allow TV cable companies to dig up roads all over the country so that many homes would end up with both TV and BT cables; and regulate the privatised BT in such a way that it never had the resources or incentives to wire the country with optical fibre.”
    Same Old Tories…….
    No integration in the ‘brand new improved’ privatised GP Local Health Service…
    NHS no more.

  2. I could not agree with you more. I live in North Yorkshire and I am relatively “lucky” to have a 6mb broadband adsl connection from BT because I happen to live close to a BT Exchange, The “Exchange Lottery”? Many of the folk I know, who live on remote farms, are stuck with dialup speeds of 28k or less with no prospect of any form of broadband connection. Some of these people are leading agricultural business men and women operating in international markets who are expected to make on line returns to Defra via dial up services. They struggle to send emails to their customers and suppliers and efffective on line ordering or just web browsing is a No No.
    I understand there is an intitiative managed by North Yorks County Council to improve the broadband services in our area but asking them how they intend to reslove the remote rural broadband issue returns a a stony silence.
    It seems to me there needs to be a significant change in thinking required here. Everyone is entitled to a supply of power and water. Perhaps Broadband should be added to the list.
    As for BT infinty around here well that’s just is pipe dream.

  3. I’m afraid that I get cross every time I see BT advertising the benefits of Infinity. And I’ve now discovered that grants are available in Wales, and some parts of England, to fund satellite Internet in BT Broadband “not spots.” Am I missing something, or wouldn’t it benefit more people if the money, instead of being used for grants, was used to improve infrastructure so that the telephone cables could support decent Broadband for everyone in the UK? It seems to be equivalent to giving out grants to lots of households to have wells built, instead of making mains water available to all households.

  4. Couldn’t agree more with the article and comments above. Like the original poster I live in a new build estate that is attracting young and professional families, but not on the edge of Manchester, I’m only 3 miles from the centre of Manchester with a new technology park within spitting distance of my home. Looking at the map of the infinity enabled exchanges, all the neighbouring exchanges are enabled. On a good day I can get about 3 Mbps download – so I may as well give up on wanting to get TV on demand and other such services. I can actually get a faster download speed using a mobile broadband dongle, but given the pathetic download bandwidth caps that the mobile operators impose, there isn’t any point in going there!

    Now over recent days I’ve been hearing the adverts for Infinity 2 – 76 Mbps – and getting so cross and frustrated. While I understand the need to keep improving technology and improving speeds, surely BT should be spending more time and effort in bringing everyone up to a minimum standard speed that is able to cope with the content rich websites and applications. I did have hopes that perhaps the move towards Local Loop Unbundling and Wholesale Line Rental would improve the situation in bringing pressure to BT from the other broadband retailers; however, it seems not – we’re still stuck with the BT infrastructure no matter who places their equipment on the end of it.

    What was done in the past was done, and we can’t change it, but I sincerely hope this government starts to recognise the problem, otherwise significant chunks of the country are going to remain broadband ‘second class citizens’!

  5. Great article and I appreciated the history part.

    Having fallen for the “opening up to competition is a good thing” line all those years ago I fully expected us to now be in a position where we were spoilt for choice.

    I live in a big town 20 miles outside London and in a 5 year old “new build”, with the only service being available to us is broadband which struggles to reach 2mb and we are only 1.5 miles from the exchange.

    Whilst BT Infinity is expected this year, there are various stories suggesting it won’t make it to our estate as its not yet “been adopted”.

    Very frustrating and not great for the UK if we continue to lag behind our economic rivals.

  6. I live in Manchester city centre on Whitworth Street, M1 postcode, and there is no BT infinity here either. It’s not just my postcode, you can’t get it in Piccadilly Village either. I find it utterly incredible that the 3rd largest city in the country does not have fibreoptic broadband enabled. It’s all the more galling that BT constantly spam me with emails offering internet up to 160Mb. I get 2Mb on a good day (although I pay for 20Mb), it’s a total shambles which I am locked into for the next 17 months apparently.

  7. Pingback: Whitehall Watch

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