BT has said it will allow rival broadband companies to use its tunnels to lay their own superfast fibre network
All broadband suppliers will be allowed to lay their own fibre cables in BT’s tunnels, the company has said. Opening up its “ducts” could potentially encourage the development of a superfast broadband network and save rivals billions of pounds that would have been needed to dig up the nation’s pavements.
It is also in line with calls from the Conservative Party, rivals such as TalkTalk and BSkyB and also with European movements to encourage free access.
Jeremy Hunt, shadow minister for Culture, Media and Sport, had said that a Conservative government would break BT’s monopoly on the network to promote a nationwide broadband target speed of 100mbps, and agreed with TalkTalk and Sky that access to ducts would allow a more effective market to operate.
BT, however, has denied that it has simply caved in to political pressure: “We told [industry regulator] Ofcom last year we’re willing to provide open access to our ducts and poles and we are working with them on how to achieve it. Other companies already have access to our exchanges so we’re relaxed about providing them with another form of access as well,” said the company’s chief executive Ian Livingstone.
Questions, however, remain over the extent to which BT’s rivals will really want to lay their own cables , even in BT ducts; while urban areas may appear commercially attractive, BT is itself laying down some fibre which other companies are allowed to use themselves. In rural areas, there is unlikely to be an appetite from new companies because there will be an insufficient return on the substantial investment required. TalkTalk issued a statement saying that “We’re at the forefront of the debate about how best to provide super fast broadband to our customers. We’re talking to BT and Ofcom and we’re considering a range of options including our own fibre trial.”
The Conservative Party has said that it would use any underspend from the part of the BBC’s licence fee that is currently earmarked to help fund digital switchover. When that is completed after 2012, the Party would consider matched funding or loans to try to encourage a more widespread high-speed broadband network