Ofcom Confirms Virgin Media Need Not Share Its Ducts

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Virgin Media does not have “significant market power” so will not have to share its ducts, Ofcom has confirmed

Ofcom has confirmed that it will not force Virgin Media to open up its broadband ducting to  rival service providers, despite forcing BT to share.

Ofcom’s position, taken in February last year, continues to infuriate BT, which agreed with the regulator to open its ducting to rival service providers back in February 2010. Virgin does not have to do the same, says Ofcom, because it is still not a dominant player.

No Change To Position

An Ofcom spokesman told eWEEK Europe UK that in February 2010, BT had “significant market power” (SMP) so had to open its ducting to rival service providers. At the same time, Ofcom ruled that Virgin Media, despite having 50 percent coverage in the UK, did not have SMP.

Since then, Ofcom’s position has not changed, and it reiterated today that Virgin Media can keep it own ducting to itself. This comes amid governmental and regulatory efforts to encourage other service providers to install their own equipment and cabling so as to broaden the reach of superfast broadband in the UK.

BT Fibre In Ducting

And Ofcom does now has the power (under revised telecom regulations) to order a company to share its ducting, even if they do not have SMP.

“Where operators have a position of Significant Market Power (SMP), Ofcom can require them to share their networks,” an Ofcom spokesperson told eWEEK Europe UK. “When we last assessed the market, we used these powers to require BT to share its ducts and poles on a wholesale basis with other providers. We did not find Virgin Media to have SMP.”

Is It Fair?

The spokesperson confirmed to eWEEK Europe UK that while the SMP rules have now been relaxed, its position on the Virgin Media ducting matter had not changed.

Ofcom said this is because it has to ensure that any decision taken is “proportionate, non-discriminatory and in the interests of promoting efficient investment in infrastructure and innovation.”

Virgin Media’s network currently serves nearly 13 million homes in the UK, nearly 51 percent of the country.

Yet Ofcom’s position on the Virgin Media ducting matter continues to rankle with BT. After all, it has to offer rivals access to its own ducting, so shouldn’t the firm with the second largest network reach in the UK also be forced to open its ducting as well?

BT is involved in ‘ongoing discussions’ with Virgin Media and a number of other ISPs over the prices it charges to rival service providers including Virgin Media, who access BT’s ducting.

“BT offered to make its ducts and poles available to other CPs in 2009, ahead of any regulatory obligation, allowing others a wider range of options to invest in the future of the UKs telecoms infrastructure,” said BT in an emailed statement.

“We believe it is important, and only fair, that others are prepared to do the same and remove any remaining barriers to investment. We believe action is needed on this issue and will continue to make this point strongly to Ofcom,” it added.

Virgin Media Statement

Virgin Media meanwhile told eWEEK Europe UK that the Virgin Media ducting issue was not needed at the moment, because there were other priorities, such as extending the rollout of fibre into rural areas – regions that it does not currently serve.

Virgin Media pointed to the proposed Fujitsu network as a possible solution, but also said that once ducting prices were agreed with BT, then it would explore the possibility of using BT’s ducts to extend its own reach in the UK.

“All the focus is rightly on getting better connectivity in areas not already served by superfast broadband and where BT is the sole telecoms infrastructure owner,” a Virgin Media spokesperson told eWEEK Europe UK, via email. “As both Ofcom and the government have repeatedly acknowledged, there is no case for mandating access to Virgin Media’s network at this time.”

“£13 billion of private investment was spent creating this unique fibre optic cable network which passes half the UK,” Virgin Media added. “We’re getting on extending our reach, adding thousands of homes every month as well as exploring genuinely game-changing alternatives for remote rural areas such as Fujitsu’s proposal to create a new network for up to five million digitally disenfranchised homes, to ensure households right across the country can benefit from better internet access.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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