Ofcom’s proposals for super-fast broadband across the UK

The Friday Thought by Technical Director, Kevin Herbert

The communications regulatory body, Ofcom, has submitted proposals to promote competition and investment in the broadband market. It will mean allowing BT’s competitors to have access to its dedicated virtual link over new fibre lines laid and for BT to provide physical access to its ducts and overhead infrastructure to allow the competitors to lay their own fibre if wanted.

The increase in competition and ability for ISP’s to lay fibre easily to more remote locations is great news for customers. Not only will it give them greater choice, but hopefully a fuller selection of services.

It also allows the smaller ISP’s to act more competitively as wholesalers, who are likely to take up some of the duct availability, can pass the significant saving on to them.

However, my concerns are that there has been no mention of any limitation to whom or how much a provider may put down in a duct. We could find ducts being ‘stuffed’ unnecessarily in order to block out other competitors. It will then fall to BT to create new ducts with the costs being absorbed by the customer.

There should also be consideration to maintenance of the ducts. Should the duct collapse or be damaged from construction works, who get priority in fixing their cabling? This also means that with an increased number of suppliers accessing the duct, there is the potential risk of damage to another provider’s cable and who will take responsibility for that repair and when? Of course, it will be the end user customer who will suffer the largest headache if there is no solution put in place.

 At  present, it is BT Openreach who can determine which cables should be repaired first and as it is only them accessing the duct, they are able to check that all cables are working before closing it back up again.

 I’m not 100% convinced that duct sharing will provide a successful answer to faster broadband UK wide unless some control in put in place to protect the customer from the bad side of competitive behaviour.

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