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The BT Tower, London

The government’s aim of building a broadband network which will allow the UK to compete economically with other nations has been given a boost with the news that BT is upgrading millions of customers’ broadband connections to 20Mb.

Later this month, the finalized version of the government’s Digital Britain report is due to be published. The document will function as a blueprint for ensuring that every home and business in the UK has access to an ADSL broadband connection of at least 2Mb by 2012. In so doing, it is hoped that businesses will stand in good stead to benefit from new revenue streams from the digital economy.

However, the benchmark figure of 2Mb which has been set has come in for strong criticism from many within the broadband sector. Principally, the doubters’ objections hinge on the notion that this is too low to cope with new services and that it compares badly with the speeds delivered in other countries with whom the UK will be competing.

In Japan and South Korea where faster fibre optic broadband networks are prevalent, speeds of up to 100Mb are common. Meanwhile, the Australian and US governments have both unveiled plans for an extensive cable broadband infrastructure.

The widespread criticism is likely to be tempered today, however, after BT confirmed that it is to upgrade millions of its customers’ connections to up to 20Mb by March 2010 at no extra charge. This will be achieved partly through the installation of ADSL2+ technology. Speeds will also be boosted by the free distribution of its BT Broadband Accelerator which limits line interference.

Under the plans, BT’s upgrade will reach 55 per cent of its customer base of 4.8 million by 2010. Currently, the top speed that BT broadband subscribers could expect is 8Mb.

Gavin Patterson, chief executive officer, BT Retail, said: “We are already the UK's largest retailer of broadband and today's announcement shows that we offer terrific value for money."

News of developments comes as BT is gearing up to commence trials of its fibre to cabinet broadband technology. Set to take place initially in Muswell Hill in north London and in Whitchurch in South Glamorgan, this is capable of delivering a service of up to 40Mb. The internet service provider has outlined plans to extend the reach of the service to 40 per cent of its network by 2012.

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