ISPs Criticise BT Pole And Duct Sharing Charges

Some ISPs warn that the government’s rural broadband push is in danger, because BT’s prices are too high

A group of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have written to communications minister Ed Vaizey and BT CEO Ian Livingston, warning of a possible boycott of the government’s £830m investment for rural broadband pilots.

Their complaint is that the cost which BT charges in order to allow them to access its telephone poles and ducting, is too high.

The leaked letter was seen by the Daily Telegraph, and was signed by executives from TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Fujitsu, Geo and Vtesse Networks. They warned that the government’s competitive subsidy scheme, known as BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK), risked being completely dominated by BT.

Ducting And Poles

These ISPs are hoping to use BT’s existing infrastructure of ducts and poles so as to cut the cost of rolling out fibre to small towns and villages. This follows Ofcom decision last October to order BT to open up its fibre network to rival ISPs in an attempt to hasten the rollout of super-fast broadband throughout the country.

Of course, BT already provided access options to its network, but BT said the Ofcom statement was designed to provide “regulatory clarity and certainty”.

In January this year, BT revealed the draft pricing and design proposals for its duct and pole sharing products.

And it seems that the ISPs are not happy at the prices BT wants to charge for accessing its infrastructure. These conditions made it “unviable” for the signatories to compete with BT, the letter said.

“We are unanimous in the belief that the BDUK competitive procurement process will lack a credible alternative to BT, should BT fail to make substantial revisions to… pricing,” the letter reportedly said.

The letter added that “urgent intervention” is needed to “require BT to quickly revise the pricing”.

“Without this, we believe that the BDUK process risks a lack of vigorous competition and as a result, will fail to deliver the investment, quality, speed of rollout, innovation and value for money, that industry is capable of delivering and that taxpayers deserve,” it said.

The ISPs also claimed in their letter that the prices BT proposed to charge for access were four to five times higher than their underlying costs.

BT Statement

But BT quickly hit back at the ISPs complaints, and took issue with those companies “who provide little or no wholesale access to their assets.”

“It is very disappointing that this letter was shared with the media several hours before ourselves,” a BT spokesperson informed eWEEK Europe via email. “It’s a shame that some of the companies involved seem keener to spend more time talking about this process than actually working on it.”

“The fact is our proposed prices for duct access compare very well with European averages whilst our plans for pole access have been held up due to others delaying our trials,” the spokesperson added. “Once those trials are underway we will be in a far better position to understand the costs involved and so we would encourage these companies to start trialling with us as soon as possible.”

“BT already provides numerous ways in which third parties can access our network and we have committed ourselves to providing yet more forms of access. It is highly ironic that we are being criticised by some companies who provide little or no wholesale access to their assets,” BT said.

“Finally, BT is the only company who has installed broadband equipment in exchanges serving the last ten percent of the UK and so we would question whether these companies are genuinely interested in serving rural Britain given their track record.”

Earlier this week, BT said that it was extending the rollout of ADSL2+ over its copper based network, which should translate to faster broadband  for 80 percent of the country.