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UK and EU Pricing for Superfast Broadband Cable Duct and Pole Access

Thursday, November 15th, 2012 (2:07 am) - Score 1,964

A new report, which assess the potential impact of new EU regulatory proposals to cut the cost of broadband infrastructure development across Europe, has delivered a useful insight into the costs of giving ISPs access to install their own fibre optic lines via BT’s existing cable ducts and telegraph poles.

Europe’s current Digital Agenda strategy aims to make 30Mbps+ available to 100% of households by 2020 (with 50% being within reach of a 100Mbps+ service). The European Commission recognises that this is an expensive process and recently commissioned Analysys Mason to investigate five policy proposals that could potentially cut the cost and burden of such work (i.e. making it more attractive for investment).

EU Proposals to Reduce Broadband Costs and Admin Burdens

• A centralised atlas of passive infrastructure
• Mandated access to passive infrastructure
• A one-stop-shop for rights of way and administrative procedures
• A database in which all planned civil works must be published
• An obligation to equip all new buildings with high-speed (100Mbit/s) Internet access, as well as mandated open access to the terminating segment.

Broadly speaking the study, which has just been published, revealed that the proposals would “most likely have positive results on coverage” and will “reduce costs“. But it similarly warned that the measures are closely interlinked and some aspects, such as the demand for a “centralised atlas of passive infrastructure“, remain expensive.

In fact the full cost savings could only be achieved if all of the measures were implemented together. Analysys Mason categorically said that the proposals “should not be considered separately“.

Matt Yardley, Author of the Study, said:

It is widely accepted that civil works such as digging trenches account for up to 80% of broadband deployment costs. By implementing measures that aim to reduce the amount of civil works required, e.g. by encouraging the sharing of existing passive infrastructure, it is likely that the overall cost of deploying new networks can be reduced.”

Some aspects of the EC proposals have already found their way into the UK government’s bid to resolve “unnecessary bureaucracy” in the current planning system, which will be handled through its Growth and Infrastructure Bill (BIG).

The study also highlighted some useful graphs, which expose the monthly charges for access to incumbent-owned cables ducts and telegraph poles in Europe. This is particularly relevant to BTOpenreach in the UK, which offers a Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) solution that allows rival broadband ISPs to access its telecoms infrastructure.

The graphs show that access prices vary widely across Europe, with the typical cost of access to incumbent-owned cable ducts appearing to be less than EUR 0.30 per metre per month. BTOpenreach itself comes out cheaper in many areas but more expensive in others (we covered some of this last year). It should be said that these graphs do not cover all of the relevant costs.

cable duct access prices 2011
cable telegraph poles access prices 2011

So far BTOpenreach’s PIA product has only seen an extremely limited uptake, usually from smaller projects, with larger ISPs being unable to make the economics work in their favour (BT also imposes a number of tight restrictions, such as against backhaul use). It’s worth mentioning that this is one of the areas that Ofcom intends to investigate as part of its new review into the Fixed Access Market and the Wholesale Broadband Access Market, which began last week (here).

But, even if the product was to be made more attractive, PIA now appears increasingly unlikely to see any significant uptake. Part of the reason for that is because Fujitus’s related plan to build a rural FTTH network has effectively been shelved and none of the other major operators, excluding Virgin Media, appear keen to invest in their own alternative infrastructure.

As a result the biggest improvement for consumers might well end up coming from Ofcom’s ability, or lack thereof, to introduce more competition into the existing market for superfast broadband services. This won’t improve coverage but it could bring the prices down and that would boost uptake, which over the longer term is just as important.

Analysys Mason Report for the EC (PDF)

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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9 Responses
  1. What 3G? says:

    The UK uptake has been primarily dominated by the fact that PIA is a pure access product, it does not provide for backhaul ‘access’.

    Most of the alt-nets do not need PIA but do need a backhaul product: that allows for the direct placement of fibre to the customer premise, the placement of equipment adjacent to the BT cabinet and to be able to connect through the pole, duct, etc.

    With this alt-nets could then deliver fibre, wireless, small-cell, femto and so on. Of course this is the reason that BT Openreach doesn’t wish to allow such access. If you look at the graph above, FT Orange does allow for transport access and I am sure they don’t like it, in the same vain it is not evident that such access is hurting them – maybe because the French market is less competitive and there aren’t the alt-nets there demanding such a capability.

    1. FibreFred says:

      How do you mean? Why do you need to go back to a cab, PIA allows you to go back to the exchange?

    2. zemadeiran says:

      What 3G,

      You are wrongly defining back haul as the last mile 🙂

  2. Bob says:

    The alt nets are small local sytems so they need to get backhaul from the Cabinet and will typicaly use Wirless from the Cabinet to the homes

  3. DTMark says:

    How do international PIA offerings compare, though? From what I had read, PIA is not “the ability for a provider to use BT’s infrastructure”.

    The “A” is the key. It enables “access” to that infrastructure.

    So an ISP could plan a network, using BT’s ducting, and when they come to deployment find that a whole stack of the ducts are actually blocked and unusable.

    Meaning that the new ISP can either route around (extra costs) or pay BT to clear it out (extra costs).

    We see examples of these blockages in the FTTC rollout where a cab is delayed because the ducting “has collapsed”. And I’d have thought just that, taken alone, kills most of the idea of “sharing” stone dead.

    The other aspect is: what guarantees are made on the pricing over time? An ISP would have to be brain dead to build their network using anothers infrastructure without knowing whether the project is even viable in the longer term. What happens if they later decide to refuse a price increase, do they go and dig up all their kit and take it away again?

    This “investigation” is actually where the entire project should have started. That this is being commissioned now is very sad.

    And as for:

    • A centralised atlas of passive infrastructure
    • Mandated access to passive infrastructure

    Perhaps there is a need to recognise who owns the “passive infrastructure” here, and that if an owner of an infrastucture determines they don’t want to build on or upgrade it, then that’s their call. Even if it does then mean that a duplicate infrastructure is then required at great cost.

    There is no such thing as a company being public and private at the same time.

    1. Bob says:

      It does. No one is going to pay BT per metre to access ducting that is not fit for purpose. Might be a slightly better chance if BT had to pay the money back if they then used that ducting for FTTC or even putting in new copper cables.
      In addition though to the per metre charge and charges for unblocking the ducts BT impose a whole raft of other misc charges.

  4. Bob says:

    As I understand it with most of the EU ones you get access to the duct ie a clear and usable duct. Why is anyone going to pay a per metre acces charge and then have to pay BT to unblock it It makes no sense you are paying to acces the duct if BT cannot provide a clear usable duct then they are not providing a product that is fit for purpose. The other thing of course is were they to find a mug to do this BT would then say thanks very much we will enable thoes ccabinets now conmmercially having got someone tounblock them for Free.

    1. TheFacts says:

      Where do you read about other EU countries and their ducts?

  5. zemadeiran says:

    This is why I recommend that Openreach be brought into public ownership.

    Let the Guy’s and Girl’s continue looking after and upgrading the physical infrastructure with best of breed technology and engineering.

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