HOPES of stretching a high-speed broadband internet link across Herefordshire by next summer are being played down.

The county may have to initially settle for a shorter broadband circuit than first thought when BT announced upgrades to 38 telephone exchanges.

Julie Holmes, IT manager with Herefordshire Council, said she was 'optimistic' about some of the 38 being switched on to broadband by next summer - but not all.

The council's technology team will be meeting BT over the next few weeks to talk through priorities, she said.

BT is upgrading the 38 exchanges as a response to the We Want Broadband campaign run by Herefordshire in Touch (HIT) that has signed up more than 3,000 would-be subscribers since January.

Four county telephone exchanges have been made broadband-friendly since the campaign started, with another six expected on-line at the end of the year.

Frank Mills, West Midlands regional director with BT, said HIT had made a 'phenomenal difference' in matching investment to demand.

"We have a clearer picture of growing demand. A planned roll out means we can get broadband to far more people in a short timeframe," he said.

The exchange upgrade does not mean BT has to be Herefordshire's sole broadband provider. With around 200 such providers to choose from customers can pick the service that best suits their needs.

The faster internet access offered by broadband is seen as essential in expanding Herefordshire's economic options.

HIT aims to encourage businesses and communities to register for broadband. When enough registrations have been taken, it can put contracts out to tender.

The team is waiting for a European Commission ruling that will clarify the bid's status under business competition rules. It is expected sometime in the next six weeks.