BT aimed to get true fibre to 25% of UK. The actual figure? 0.7%

BT has admitted that only 0.7% of the UK can get a full end-to-end fibre broadband service from the company, despite once aiming to reach a quarter of the country.

In the early days of its fibre broadband rollout, BT said it would deliver fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) to around 25% of the country, with the rest catered for by the slower fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), which uses copper wiring to deliver the final stretch of the connection.

BT quietly dropped the 25% target last year, claiming that it was “far less relevant today” because of improvements made to the headline speed of FTTC, which had doubled to 80Mbits/sec since BT’s fibre broadband rollout was first announced.

However, in response to a complaint made about BT’s fibre broadband marketing to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), BT reveals just how far that target has slipped, admitting that only 0.7% of the company’s fibre network was FTTP. That means it passes just 144,000 premises, although the actual uptake is “much lower”.

The figures raise questions over whether BT’s fibre rollout – which has been supported by hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money – is sufficiently future-proof, with copper wire likely to become the bottleneck when the company seeks to boost broadband speeds in the years to come. FTTP, on the other hand, provides almost limitless potential for future speed increases.

There’s already a huge discrepancy between FTTP download speeds, which top out at 330Mbits/sec on BT’s network, and FTTC, which has a maximum speed of 80Mbits/sec. FTTC speeds also drop off the further the customer is from their local cabinet.

In a statement sent to PC Pro, BT said: “It’s true that BT prioritised reaching as many homes and businesses as possible, as quickly as possible by focussing on fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology. Technology is available to increase these speeds to over 100Mbits/sec in future.

“We have also built the UK’s largest Fibre to the Premise footprint – over 250k premises [the figures have been updated since BT’s submission to the ASA] – and we offer a ‘fibre on demand’ FTTP service to those who want more speed in FTTC areas.

“We keep FTTP technology under constant review, and we see it as a solution to satisfy demand for higher speeds from customers in future, in the next generation of our fibre network.”

True fibre?

BT was responding to a complaint made by two members of the public that describing the copper-based FTTP connections as “fibre-optic broadband” was misleading.

In its defence, BT argued that “the enormous increase in the availability of FTTC broadband since 2008 meant that customers were far more likely than they had previously been to understand exactly what FTTC was and were consequently less likely to be misled by the use of the terms ‘fibre optic'”.

The ASA sided with BT, ruling that “consumers who might be interested in ‘fibre optic’ broadband of one sort or another would primarily be concerned with the improved speed and performance which could be delivered in comparison to an ADSL connection, and the cost at which that service could be obtained, rather than being concerned with obtaining the most technologically advanced fibre optic product available at any cost”.

Given that the ASA had previously ruled in favour of Virgin Media when a similar complaint was made about its network, the ruling was something of a foregone conclusion.

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