TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding Calls For Superfast Broadband Regulation

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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TalkTalk CEO laments the BT/Virgin duopoly in fibre broadband

Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, has called for more regulation in the superfast broadband market in order to preserve competition in the sector.

Harding, speaking at the Huawei Broadband Forum in London, said that competition was necessary in order to increase usage and prevent the emergence of a digital divide in the UK.

The superfast broadband market is still not competitive enough for her though: the majority of customers receive their products through two operators, BT Retail and Virgin Media, she reminded the audience.

TalkTalk talking the talk

“Britain is in a good place in terms of the network we have and the speeds that we get, but probably more importantly the fact our citizens use it,” said Harding. “We have higher broadband penetration and actual usage than virtually every other major developed country in the world at lower prices.”

She compared the situation favourably to the US market, where many people have the choice of just one cable company. She added that the UK has the second cheapest broadband in the world and that cost and usage were not unrelated.

However Harding said that infrastructure alone wouldn’t increase usage as many people were resistant to change and feared things like security. She believes that competition will ensure that people outside the government will have good ideas to increase take up.

Not as competitive

“We need to make sure that our market remains as competitive as it has been in the last ten years,” continued Harding. “I would argue that we’re not in as good a place as we like to think we are in terms of a competitive landscape for superfast broadband.

“Today, 95 percent of all consumers take their superfast broadband from two suppliers – BT Retail and Virgin Media. It’s not as vibrantly a competitive as copper. Prices and products do not differ as much as they do in a copper world and we should start to worry about that.”

Harding said that although she thought it was a sensible decision not to establish a regulatory framework while the infrastructure was being rolled out, “the time is right” to start working one that ensures that both parties are getting a fair deal.

Monopolies are bad

“Monopolies are like children – you don’t like them until you have one of your own,” quipped Harding. “Monopolies are bad for the country, particularly unregulated ones. Competition is good, even in the long term, for investors.”

“Looking forward, whether it’s in three, five or ten years time, most of the country will take their phone and broadband as a superfast product and I don’t think we should live in a world where that is an unregulated product offered by the admittedly, very talented, lovely monopolist on my right.[BT Openreach CEO Liv Garfield]”

““I don’t know whether I pay a good price for superfast broadband from Openreach,” she added.

“Let’s see where we are in a few years. When there is an absence of data, there can be conspiracy theories,” responded Garfield. “If more data is needed to evidence that it is a very good price and that we are being a good citizen as well as a good wholesaler then that will be the kind of conversation I will have to have.”

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