BT Opens Up Cable Ducting To Rival ISPs

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

In a significant move for the provision of fibre in the UK, BT has revealed it will open up its underground network of ducts so that rival ISPs can lay their own fibre cables

BT has announced that it will open up its network of ducts and poles to competitors, so that rival ISPs can lay their own fibre under the street or along telegraph poles to millions of homes in the United Kingdom.

The move came after last week’s announcement by the Conservative Party about rolling out super-fast broadband in the UK. The Tory Party warned BT that it would force it to open up those channels to its competitors, and it has already announced that it would scrap the government’s broadband tax “as soon as possible” if it wins power at the next election.

The broadband tax, which is expected to raise around £175 million a year, has attracted much criticism from industry experts, some of whom say the fund will fall a long way short of the amount needed to provide super-fast fibre services to every UK home.

BT’s decision to open up its fibre optic broadband ducts (i.e. underground tubes where fibre optic cable can be run) came to light in an interview with the Financial Times newspaper. This means that BT’s competitors could deploy their own fibre optic cable infrastructure, without having to go through the expensive process of digging up roads.

“We told Ofcom last year we’re willing to provide open access to our ducts … and we are working with them on how to achieve it,” BT’s CEO, Ian Livingston, told the Financial Times. “Although it’s unlikely to be the silver bullet to get fibre to every home, open access to all ducts, not just ours, might help BT and others extend coverage and so we would like to see a future government support such a move.”

“Other companies already have access to our exchanges so we’re relaxed about providing them with another form of access as well,” said BT in an official statement.

“Duct access has been adopted in other countries but normally as the only way for companies to access an incumbent’s network,” added the UK carrier. “There are plenty of existing ways in which companies can access BT’s network and so its impact may be less dramatic in the UK. We will only know for sure once they are opened. BT is taking a considerable degree of commercial risk by rolling out fibre and it will be interesting to see if others are willing to join us.”

“This follows on from the discussions that Ian Livingston and Steve Robertson (CEO of BT OpenReach) have had with Ofcom going back into last year,” a BT spokesman told eWEEK Europe. “It is something they have been discussing for a while.”

“Providing them with access to our ducts and poles would add just one more way for them to gain access,” said the spokesman. “It would require them to invest large funds however, and so we’ll see whether they really have the appetite for this or not.”

Meanwhile the move has been welcomed by the Conservative Party.

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“We welcome BT’s announcement that they are preparing to open their underground ducts to other broadband providers,” said Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in an emailed statement to eWEEK Europe.

“This is something the Conservative Party has been calling for for over a year and is a central part of our plans to roll out super-fast broadband across the country,” Hunt added.

It remains to be seen however how this move will translate to broadband provision in rural areas, where the cost of a fibre rollout will be more expensive.