TalkTalk Boss Slams BT Fibre ‘Monopoly’

BT is trying to establish a monopoly on the UK’s fibre optic broadband market, the commercial boss of rival Internet service provider TalkTalk has warned.

In an interview with the Observer on Sunday, TalkTalk’s David Goldie said that BT’s attempts to regain its former dominance of the market could leave Britain with a second-class broadband infrastructure.

“At all times BT is thinking about how it can recover the monopoly position that it lost many years ago,” he said. “I don’t think that is going to represent good value for the British taxpayer.”

Fujitsu to challenge BT

Some observers have warned that BT could get a monopoly on rural fibre through a £530 million government plans to support its installation.

In 2010,  BT pledged to invest £2.5 billion in rolling out fibre to around two thirds of UK homes by 2015. The company is now also bidding for a further £360 million of the government subsidy, announced last month for England and Scotland, to help get fibre to rural areas.

However, Japanese electronics firm Fujitsu, which announced plans to build its own £2 billion superfast fibre network back in April, intends to bid against BT for the government money – and TalkTalk and Virgin Media have promised to support it.

Fujitsu’s success will depend on BT lowering the fees it charges rival service providers to access its telephone poles and underground ducting, over and through which fibre optic cables run. In a letter to communications minister Ed Vaizey and BT CEO Ian Livingston earlier this year, a group of ISPs warned that high fees would make competition “unviable”.

The letter added that “urgent intervention” was needed to “require BT to quickly revise the pricing”. However, BT responded that proposed prices for duct access compared very well with European averages.

“It is highly ironic that we are being criticised by some companies who provide little or no wholesale access to their assets,” BT said. The regulator, Ofcom has required a wholesale price cut from BT, but Virgin Media has said it is not enough.

Regulation could be needed

BT is scheduled to publish interim prices for other operators to access its network of ducts and poles by September, but Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards has admitted that BT is unlikely to set an acceptable price and “anticipates” that regulation will be needed. Fujitsu told the Observer that BT should halve its prices over a three- to five-year period.

BT has already won several large contracts to provide high-speed broadband to rural parts of the country – including Northern Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. It is also competing for a £120 million project to wire up Cumbria. The majority of these projects provide fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) rather than fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), meaning the ‘last mile’ connection is still over copper lines.

According to Goldie, however, this is the wrong approach. “I don’t think they are building the right infrastructure for Britain,” he said.

Sophie Curtis

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  • BT has responded to this story:

    "BT is investing £2.5bn of its own money to deliver fibre broadband to two thirds of the UK by the end of 2015. This is the biggest investment of its kind anywhere in the world that is not dependent on government intervention or regulatory support. Unlike other companies, BT has provided reciprocal wholesale access to its fibre network from the outset. This allows other operators to piggyback off our investment, while encouraging competition and the take-up of fibre services to thrive. We've also volunteered to provide additional forms of wholesale access via our ducts and poles. We expect to announce revised pricing for such access shortly to provide Openreach's customers with more clarity when bidding for BDUK funds.

    "Our fibre broadband products have plenty of built-in flexibility and are evolving all the time. For example, we recently announced plans to double the download speed of our FTTC product to up to 80Mb/s and believe it can achieve even faster speeds in the future. We expect to launch our FTTP product - which will deliver download speeds of up to 100Mb/s initially - later this year.

    "Openreach holds regular meetings with its customers to give them the opportunity to influence our fibre-broadband plans. We will continue to take the views of industry into account as the roll-out progresses."

  • Talk Talk etc seem to have lost sight of the fact that their services run over BT infrastructure. Perhaps they'd like to put up billions of pounds and install their own fibre and copper?

    As for complaining BT haven't installed FTTH - come on! There's around 25 million homes in the UK - installing fibre to them all is not viable for a single company, even one the size of BT.

    This requires co-operation, not antagonism.

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