BT has warned Dido Harding, the boss of its arch rival TalkTalk, that her ISP is in danger of being “remembered as broadband luddites clinging to a copper raft in a sea of fibre” after Harding criticised the lack of competition and regulation in the United Kingdom’s emerging market for fibre optic based superfast broadband (FTTC/P) services.
According to The Telegraph, Harding yesterday told a conference in London that Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, needed to weaken BT’s grip over superfast broadband in order to make it just as competitive as the current unbundled local loop (LLU) market for copper based broadband ADSL2+ (up to 20/24Mbps) services.
Dido Harding, TalkTalks CEO, said:
“92% of all [superfast broadband] connections go to one provider. Factually, today, our superfast market is significantly less competitive than our copper market and that should be a real worry.
Today, I and [Sky Broadband] and every small reseller of broadband has no idea whether we are paying the right price for superfast broadband connectivity because there is no regulator, no referee on the pitch.”
We assume the 92% figure mentioned above is referring to FTTC/P services delivered over BTWholesale’s platform, which is indeed largely dominated by BT Retail, as otherwise it seems to ignore customers on Virgin Media’s separate cable service and those of independent FTTH / FTTP or FTTC offering ISPs (e.g. KC, CityFibre etc.).
At present the dominant form of superfast broadband on BT’s national UK network is Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC), which at best only offers a more restrictive form of virtual LLU known as Virtual Unbundled Local Access. Sadly VULA doesn’t provide the same level of price or flexibility control as a full LLU service, which is technically difficult to achieve on fibre, although both the EU and UK governments have so far given it their support.
Harding wants Ofcom to introduce better regulation within the next 5 years and indeed the regulator has already begun to look at potential solutions, which could in the longer term include measures such as wavelength unbundling on true fibre optic lines. But so far no firm plan beyond VULA has been established and ISPs, most of which have little choice but to use BT’s existing infrastructure, often cry out for greater flexibility to help differentiate their products.
Naturally BT frequently counters that its FTTC/P products are offered on a “level playing field” to all ISPs and that those who complain could always build a rival infrastructure. In reality few ISPs, if any, would have even remotely enough money to deliver a truly national alternative to BT and those that try often suffer problems (e.g. Fujitsu UK, Digital Region etc.).
Similarly TalkTalk, which has so far seen fairly low uptake of its own BT based superfast broadband packages, could perhaps put more effort into both advertising and revamping its packages instead of just offering the FTTC service as part of a “boost“, which can confuse new customers.
Never the less the calls for more fibre competition are continuing to grow and so too is the frustration with Ofcom’s seemingly glacial pace towards change.