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BT Adjusts PIA to Meet Latest BDUK and EU State Aid Broadband Rules

Friday, May 17th, 2013 (1:58 pm) - Score 1,814

BTOpenreach has launched a new “Plus” variant of its Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product, which allows rival ISPs access to use BT’s underground cable ducts and telegraph poles. The updated solution has been designed to meet the latest EU rules governing the use of state aid to improve UK broadband infrastructure.

Europe’s updated guidelines, which include a greater focus on support for “ultra-fast” fibre optic (100Mbps+) services, were adopted at the end of last year (here) and have been designed to support a more “technological neutrality” approach to the use of public funding that favours open access networks and transparency.

The rules apply to operators that intend to make use of public funds under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework and as a result BT has had to adjust its “commercial approach” in order to meet the new conditions. This has resulted in several key changes.

Openreach’s PIA Changes

1. Existing Statement of Requirement Process (SoR) extended to BDUK intervention areas.

CPs wishing to request additional network access products or services in areas where BT has utilised public funding under the BDUK scheme, should follow the normal Industry agreed SoR process.

2. Extending the use of Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) to roll out non Next Generation Access (NGA) services in BDUK intervention areas

Where BT has utilised public funding to enhance its existing infrastructure to roll out SFBB within a specific geographic location, CPs who are accessing the enhanced infrastructure and investing, building managing and commercially exploiting competing NGA networks in the same area can apply for an extension to the use of Facilities installed under PIA to deliver non NGA services within that area. This extension (PIA Plus) will be subject to additional terms and conditions on application. CPs wishing to know more about PIA Plus should contact their SRM for more information.

3. Use of Publicly Funded New Infrastructure

If BT utilises public funds to build new ducts (or poles) where no existing duct (or poles) exists, and the new infrastructure build is over 1km long and costs in excess of £50,000, a further enhancement will be available, under PIA Plus, permitting additional use of a facility installed within that new infrastructure under PIA for non NGA services. As part of the standard PIA process, Openreach will notify industry of any proposed new ducts that meet this criteria and interested CPs should contact their SRM for more details.

On top of that Openreach has also withdrawn its related Exchange Access Link (EAL) product, which provides third party backhaul capability. It’s claimed that the move is part of a wider effort to simplify Openreach’s product set and ISPs will still be able to purchase an “equivalent capability” via the Cable Link product (i.e. no change to the current T&Cs or price).

Sadly we don’t expect the primary changes to produce any dramatic upsurge in adoption of PIA, which has so far remained broadly confined to a predominantly niche selection of operators (e.g. Gigaclear, Call Flow Solutions etc.).

Fujitsu UK had originally intended to use PIA for its national UK FTTH network but, like so many other operators before it (e.g. GEO, Vtesse etc.), eventually withdrew from the BDUK process altogether over economic concerns (i.e. difficult to compete with BT).

Back in November 2011 GEO noted that the biggest problems with PIA were the “heavy restrictions“, which meant it could only really “be used for providing the final drop from local exchange to a residential broadband consumer’s house“. Using it for other things, such as rural backhaul or business connectivity (e.g. leased lines), had effectively been ruled out and thus made the economic case for using PIA very challenging.

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Mark Jackson
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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14 Responses
  1. Avatar Kyle says:

    Hmm… Controversial point #3 — From the way I read it, these were Openreach’s changes and not defined by the BDUK. In that case, what gives them the right to classify £50,000 publicly funded projects as a threshold? Surely £1 of public money is £1 of public money… unless of course, there is favouritism involved here.

    I struggle to see why Openreach receive the funding, build as per their terms and benefit from such a large buffer before public money becomes public money.

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      My reading was that point #2 covered PIA access to infrastructure built for BDUK – which is for any amount or distance.

      Point #3 seems to add “further enhancement… permitting additional use” to point #2, so seems to be an additional use not normally covered by standard PIA.

      Perhaps it is a reflection of GEO’s problem – that PIA only worked for the final drop. Perhaps it deliberately allows for the rural backhaul and business connectivity that GEO sought.

  2. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    Point 2 as I understand the wording CP’s can use the infrastructure for installing copper cable but NOT FIBRE is this correct? If it is correct all this PIA changes are nothing more than smoke and mirrors to put off anyone else using the infrastructure.

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      Point 2 seems to limit the extra re-use to non-NGA capability.

      That shouldn’t really be a problem, should it?

      First, the BDUK intervention areas are ones that all operators have indicated (under NDA to the council) that they have zero commercial plans to deploy NGA, so there is no-one else who would use the infrastructure.

      Second, the award of a BDUK contract to subsidise the intervention areas is a 2-way contract. The council want to get coverage of a large portion of their county that is otherwise unviable, while the private company need to be able to make a reasonable level of profit out of the task (and accepting the risks of the venture).

      They both need to commit a certain amount of money to the project, and there is a mutual need to make it work (the more profitable that the county can make any one area for the company, the more coverage in other areas that they will get for their portion of the funds). It all therefore hinges on the take-up rate for the subsidised service.

      That planning really only works if the company has a localised monopoly in order for that profit to materialise over time.

      And of course, it isn’t quite right if a competitor indicated it wouldn’t roll out NGA, but then subsequently chose to do so because it could muscle its way into infrastructure that it failed to win a tender for.

      This, of course, would have to be a temporary restriction.

  3. Avatar Bob says:

    At present BT has managed to stop other operators competing with FTTC/P. OFCOM really needs to intervene we clearly do not have a level playing field when not one other operator has gained any BDUK funding

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Intervene in what way? What solutions would others put in and at what cost to the end user, £37/month for 10M?

    2. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      Disingenuous claiming that service is £37/month for 10Mb/s. That’s the guaranteed data rate, not the maximum. That’s like saying an FTTC service via BT Wholesale is however many pounds a month for a few hundred kbps.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      OR sells to all ISP’s at the same prices, sounds level to me

    4. Avatar JNeuhoff says:

      Agreed. The whole BDUK tender never really was a genuine tender process. There is virtually no infrastructure competition for the BDUK, and BT never paid for the already existing last mile copper network. More taxpayer’s money going to BT in return for no shares nor any control (other than a useless Ofcom).

    5. Avatar Gadget says:

      I think a lot of people would consider Virgin to be competition to xDSL and they cover just under 50% of the UK, so I’d struggle with the no competition argument.
      BT shareholders “paid” for the existing assets of the company when it was privatised, and subsequently quite a lot of investment as well.
      The BDUK money is designed to make the finances for doing uncommercial areas the same as the commercial deployment, so BT still have to put in their own money. What you are getting is not shares but a service where previously none was planned. And I’m sure Bob will have checked that there are auditing requirements within the contract to enable BDUK to satisfy themselves about how the additional funding is being spent.

    6. Avatar FibreFred says:

      “and BT never paid for the already existing last mile copper network. ”

      Hmmm might want to check into that one

    7. Avatar MikeW says:

      There are advantages for the councils – they don’t get to take on any of the risk of the commercial venture going wrong. And if it goes too right, they get to clawback some of the funds.

      No downside, lots of upside.

    8. Avatar TheFacts says:

      How could there be any risk in a council investing in a broadband network?

      …Digital Region…

  4. Avatar DTMark says:

    Isn’t all this only for seven years * though?

    That being the case, who is going to use PIA to put their cabling in place without any idea what will happen in seven years (e.g. get your cables out of our ducts now, the arangement has ended), that timescale is surely too short to do the maths and make this work.

    * From the State Aid Guidelines

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