Even as PR stunts by broadband providers go, BT’s Race to Infinity seemed spectacularly un-risky, writes Neil Hawkins at ChooseISP.
If you believe the hype, self-nominated local campaigners have been working furiously to drum up support for votes to skip their local exchange to the front of the queue for the necessary work to install BT’s up to 40Mb Infinity broadband.
The first 100 campaigners who achieved 100 votes were even sent extra materials by BT such as stickers, rosettes and megaphones, although it’s hard to deduce whether driving around the local village blaring about broadband has won many votes for any campaigner.
In fact, if the Race to Infinity has proved anything thus far, it’s that the demand for superfast broadband is perhaps not as great as BT hoped.
According to the Race to Infinity rules the top five exchanges with most votes as a % of the total telephone exchange size will be added to BT’s fibre rollout plan. Exchanges also need to get a minimum of 1,000 votes.
We’re roughly halfway through the competition now and according to these rules out of a total of 2500 exchanges just one exchange qualifies to win and only two exchanges have achieved the required 1,000 votes.
Caxton, an affluent area near Cambridge has 1,139 votes representing 56% of the local population, and looks sure to be upgraded, whilst Malvern with 1,1103 votes is second, but this only represents 7% of the people connected to that exchange.
It’s a disappointing result.
It’s clear that BT and PR gurus Porter Novelli (PN) saw Race to Infinity as not just a commercial opportunity but also as a chance to get a large amount of legwork done for free.
When you consider PN’s background in delivering campaigns for non-profits and their focus on a technological approach in what they call ‘today’s global and socially networked world’ it’s perhaps no surprise that they chose to mirror the various independent campaigns which have succeeded in bringing next-generation broadband access to notspots.
It’s surely what Big Dave means when he talks about ‘The Big Society’ after all: volunteering your time for PR companies, I mean your local community, to help improve the quality of life for you and your neighbours.
To be fair, BT has set aside £10m to upgrade the winners and has also said that it will be donating £5,000 worth of IT equipment to a local project for each of the five winning exchanges.
Even the superfast broadband alone will really reward the efforts of local campaigners.
However, Grantham, recently announced as one of the slowest broadband towns in Britain only has 0.58% of the vote. Do people not know about The Race to Infinity there or is the internet so slow in Grantham that the bandwidth-hungry Race to Infinity website won’t even load?
So far the Race to Infinity seems to have proved that the slowest towns and villages are necessarily bothered about broadband. It could be the case that the demand for broadband in rural areas doesn’t stretch to Infinity-style superfast services at all.
Neil Hawkins is a contributing editor for independent news, reviews and price comparison website ChooseISP. The site covers broadband deals including the fastest broadband from all of the UK’s major providers.