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David Davis MP Pressures KCOM to Help Resolve FTTP Poles Dispute

Thursday, Oct 12th, 2023 (9:58 am) - Score 2,520
kcom telegraph pole female engineer

The MP for Haltemprice and Howden, David Davis, has called on ISP KCOM, MS3, Connexin and other alternative broadband network operators in East Yorkshire (England) to help resolve the “unsightly mess of unnecessary street furniture” (a reference to recent protests against poles) by fairly sharing access to existing ducts and poles.

Poles are a common sight across much of the UK (Openreach alone has 4 million of them), which is in no small part because they’re cost-effective to build, can be deployed in areas where there may be no space or access agreement to safely put new underground cables, are less disruptive (avoiding the noise, access restrictions and damage to pavements of major street works), can be built under Permitted Development (PD) rights with only minimal prior notice and are faster to deploy than digging trenches. The lower cost impact can often mean the difference between building gigabit broadband into an area or skipping it entirely.

NOTE: Network operators are under significant pressure from competition and rising costs (we’ve already seen this impact jobs and slowing builds), thus it isn’t viable for all of them to deploy new trenching for underground infrastructure in areas of protest.

However, not everybody is a fan of poles, as aptly demonstrated by the recent protests against their deployment by residents of Hedon, South Preston and several other locations (here and here) – as well as more widely across the United Kingdom (here).

Over the past week, locals in Hedon have even taken to parking over the top of pole deployment sites and blocking streets to prevent more poles being deployed. Complaints often focus on their negative visual appearance, concerns about the risk of damage from major storms (example) and a lack of effective prior consultation.

Disputes like this are naturally much more likely to occur in areas that haven’t previously had poles, which is where most of the gripes tend to surface. In such situations, network operators often face a stark choice – continue to build against the wishes of local residents (often resulting in protests and negative headlines) or scrap that part of the build to focus on other areas. But in the case of Hedon, MS3 is currently trying to push forward.

At this stage it’s unclear precisely why MS3 are moving ahead, despite facing significant opposition and negative headlines, although it’s worth considering that the operator also has to consider those who may have registered to sign-up to their network in the area (they aren’t all NIMBYs). Similarly, sometimes operators need to link together different sections of a network, which can make it difficult to miss out certain critical areas without causing wider problems.

Infrastructure Sharing

One particularly complex aspect that often gets raised is the question of why the new entrants (MS3, Connexin etc.) can’t simply run their new fibre via KCOM’s existing ducts, most of which are underground (KCOM is deemed to have significant market power over quite a big area around Hull by Ofcom). The first thing to note here is that this might not be workable in every area, so some poles may still be required, although it is a fair argument to make.

According to the BBC News, David Davis MP has now waded in to the dispute and highlighted how the law allows operators like KCOM to share existing infrastructure, but new entrants to the area’s broadband market had told him they faced “obstacle after obstacle” in doing so. AltNets are said to have told Davis about KCOM adopting “prohibitive pricing mechanisms” for the use of existing infrastructure and of “procrastination and delay” in the matter.

I have also asked [KCOM] to publish a clear and transparent pricing structure for access to the infrastructure it owns,” added Mr Davis. But a spokesperson for KCOM itself said they “absolutely refute any suggestion that we are putting any barriers in the way of other providers accessing our network … No provider has disputed any network access issues with us and we are not aware of any formal disputes lodged with Ofcom.”

Ofcom doesn’t strictly require KCOM to offer a regulated cable duct and pole access solution that is exactly like the one that Openreach offers via Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA). The regulator instead took an approach to remedies which focuses more on requiring access to KCOM’s fibre access network (wholesale), rather than access to its physical / passive infrastructure (here). The rules also soften a bit once you get outside the core Hull area.

However, the law does still require KCOM to fairly share access to its infrastructure, but operators expecting the same level of access and affordability as PIA from KCOM will probably run into a problem with the operator’s commercial terms. The CEO of MS3, Guy Miller, recently offered some insight into this from the AltNets perspective.

Guy Miller, CEO of MS3, told ISPreview last month:

“KCOM are subject to much of the same rules and regulations as Openreach but due to vast scale differences between the two organisations and their respective footprints this clearly creates nuances. In simple terms if you are both required to offer PIA based on a Cost Plus model and your base costs, due to scale, are three times as much, then you would reasonably expect the final price to other operators to be more expensive. This may or may not make it commercially acceptable to the other operator.

MS3 have utilised Openreach infrastructure in other locations such as Grimsby and Scunthorpe to great effect with >95% of our homes passed in these areas requiring no additional dig or poling. It is more cost effective and creates less disruption. Quite simply it is our preferred deployment method. Whilst I am unable to talk about confidential commercial terms with KCOM, readers can make their own minds up about our decisions (and that of our neighbouring altnets) in KCOM licensed areas.

As Mark has pointed out, when it comes to deploying new infrastructure in more surburban areas with homes further apart, economics plays a factor and without the option to install telegraph poles then the rollout would simply not happen. MS3 has already dug over 400,000 metres of trenches to lay ducting and cables where it has been economically feasible to do so in Hull.”

The regulator, Ofcom, has reiterated that KCOM are required to share access to their infrastructure with rivals and operators should complain to the provider first, before raising the issue with the regulator. A few operators already did this during the regulator’s last market review, but that was before many of the most recent projects had been announced or even started.

Ofcom has confirmed that at least one operator has already engaged with KCOM in this way and have indicated that they will raise a dispute if a suitable access agreement cannot be provided. But such things, if formally disputed, tend to take a long time to resolve, and thus won’t be of much help with today’s challenges.

MS3 have since confirmed that they’re considering raising a dispute against KCOM, while Connexin said the company had “applied to KCOM for clarity on pricing and access to their infrastructure“.

Hugh Davies, from Connexin, said:

“Where there is no underground ducting available at all, or where we have not been able to access KCOM’s infrastructure, we have the choice between digging new ducts or using poles. Digging is not easy as there are already many utilities embedded in our streets. Often it is safer, more environmentally sustainable and less disruptive to use poles. A lot of KCOM’s network also uses poles.”

Overall, poles remain one of the least loved pieces of modern broadband and phone infrastructure (not unlike mobile masts), but with so many network operators now using them to deploy new gigabit broadband services then it’s hardly surprising that the volume of gripes has also increased.

Naturally, we’d all prefer it if broadband, power and mobile infrastructure was totally invisible, but that’s not always economically feasible. The government have allowed the current level of flexibility in order to support their plans for achieving nationwide (c.99%) coverage of gigabit-capable broadband by the end of 2030.

Similarly, it’s worth noting that many people seem happy to accept such poles if it means getting full fibre, but that’s definitely not a universal sentiment. Naturally there’s a general election on the horizon and, as this issue seems to be slowly becoming more of a political one, then we’re starting to see different sides of the political divide play into that.

Meanwhile the anti-pole protestors in Hedon recently launched a national petition to request a change in Government legislation, which called for “telecommunication installations in the public realm to go through the local planning process” (that was extremely broad – covering more than just poles) and hoped to gather 10,000 signatures to attract an official response from the government. But that petition closed after having gathered 7,864 responses (they might have had more success by focusing specifically on poles and notification requirements).

The hope is that a better solution can be found than one that might involve the reintroduction of greater restrictions (red tape). The risk there is that such a change could damage existing rollout plans and investment, which might have wider consequences for future fibre and 5G deployments, as well as government coverage targets. The government are thus highly unlikely to impose or re-impose any serious new restrictions on build.

Finally, we think it’s worth quoting Ofcom’s regulatory position – extracted from their most recent market review – on shared access to passive infrastructure in the KCOM market area.

Ofcom’s Position

In Section 1 we have explained why, having considered stakeholder responses including Connexin’s call for regulated access to KCOM’s physical infrastructure, we have taken an approach to remedies which focuses on requiring access to KCOM’s fibre network rather than access to its physical infrastructure.

Nevertheless, we recognise that operators like MS3 and a concentration of WISPs including Connexin do have some network presence and broadband customers in the Hull Area. Over the course of this review period they, or other entrants, may seek space in KCOM’s network of underground ducts and chambers and, aerially, space on its poles to deploy a fixed access network in the Hull Area to compete with KCOM in the market for WLA.

We consider that such requests to KCOM for a form of physical infrastructure access are consistent with our approach to ex ante SMP regulation in this review of wholesale fixed telecoms markets in the Hull Area. We consider that such a request could be reasonable under the WLA general network access condition we are imposing, in which case KCOM would effectively be required to provide the relevant form of physical infrastructure access as soon as reasonably practicable and on fair and reasonable terms, conditions and charges.

Access to physical infrastructure supplied under the WLA general network access condition would be restricted to the deployment of fixed network technologies (most likely fibre) to fixed locations in the Hull Area to provide services to homes and businesses such as broadband. Wireless services and leased lines are not in the WLA market.

We note that KCOM is already required to provide access to its physical infrastructure under the ATI Regulations. This is a separate regime which the DCMS is reviewing. However, we do not consider the ATI Regulations to be a substitute for network access obligations. The ATI Regulations are conceived as a means of facilitating commercial agreements for access on fair and reasonable terms, with Ofcom providing dispute resolution in the event no agreement can be reached. A general network access obligation provides greater certainty in that it forms a basis for the specification of the nature and terms of access to KCOM’s physical infrastructure up front where such a request is reasonable. Given the competition concerns with respect to KCOM’s position in the market in the Hull Area we consider such certainty is, in this case, necessary to ensure a network access remedy is effective and is not provided by the ATI Regulations.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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19 Responses
  1. Avatar photo XGS says:

    It’s unfortunate given the nature of the Hull area that the resolution to all of this wasn’t to require KCom to provide point to point dark fibre rather than whatever bitstream services they saw fit to.

    That approach would’ve made access to poles and ducts irrelevant and allowed for provision of a variety of innovative products over the KCom network.

    Too late now of course: should’ve been done years ago.

    1. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Point to point isn’t very cost effective for consumer broadband.

    2. Avatar photo Alex A says:

      @125us go tell that to Switzerland. Or France which is P2P to a cabinet shared between Operators.

    3. Avatar photo 125us says:

      “ which is P2P to a cabinet shared between Operators.”

      So, not actually point to point then? Got you.

      And Switzerland? FTTB in most cases. Also not point to point.

    4. Avatar photo XGS says:

      PtP is okay if you’re the incumbent and wholesaler. Lighting the stuff is the big cost difference. Given most of KCom’s homes are urban no reason they couldn’t have gone this way beyond wanting to keep their network to themselves.

      Most of Swisscom’s build is PtP. There was a regulatory decision in 2021 against them using PON and they have been delivering four fibres to each housing unit for a decade.

      No idea how that dispute ended and not going to look right now but most of their urban areas and major conurbations are PtP.

      I’m not sure about France but if it’s PtP to a shared anything what the folks with kit there do with it decides if it stays PtP.

  2. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

    This is such a mess isn’t it. I live in a 1970s estate with 50 year old ducts. Trooli rodded them and skipped several roads as a consequence (including mine) – I assume because the ducts are unusable. I suspect no one wants to put up poles due to this very concern however it leaves me in an urban dead spot unlikely to be covered by anything other than long line FTTC until someone decides they can justify the costs of trenching. Personally I’d happily have poles to break the deadlock but I suspect my elderly neighbors further down the street would not…

    1. Avatar photo disappointed of hyde says:

      Similar situation to where I live. Openreach have just ignored the underground supplied estate because it needs an MDU, despite having previously put in a completely brand new individual supply trench to my apartment, unbelievably. Thankfully, 5G FWA is now giving me better speeds than a fixed line because it’s urban.

    2. Avatar photo Cheesemp says:

      @disappointed of hyde – I’ve only got 3G in my urban area (OFCOM show me as well covered by 4G but I’m not) so yes rather desperate.

  3. Avatar photo James says:

    Is it pretty much a case of KCOM allowing the company through the door, but then scaring them off with the pricing? They’ve not stopped/refused them entry as such, but have priced what the company want so highly that they just walk away as it’s not cost effective?

  4. Avatar photo Bob says:

    There needs to be a better arrangements for clearing blocked ducts also other operator should be able to gain access to any complies ducts. Possible sone kind of cost sharing

  5. Avatar photo Oggy says:

    Tory MP going after easy populist votes knowing they face being wiped out in the next GE.

    1. Avatar photo Fastman says:

      uninformed comment

      this is pretty standard fare for constituency MP about broadband a number of years ago there was MP who wrote regularly about why their constituents needed to have better broadband and regularly about why were new nasty telegraph poles — anyone who thinks this is uncommon or new is misinformed badly

    2. Avatar photo Oggy says:

      No Fatman, it isn’t uniformed.

      The Tories know that they face trouble at the polls at the next GE with the mess they are making of our group of countries.

      In an attempt to stop leaking votes and show that they care for the people they have been voted to represent they will show some interest in these kind of things.

  6. Avatar photo Ray Duffill says:

    The Petition you refer to in your article, Mark, was an adopted one, it only had a month to run. In 4 weeks the Hedon campaign generated 4763 signatures – in just 4 weeks. Our new petition prompted by MS3’s bullish activity, failure to consult, and inexperience in community engagement has led to the starting of a new Parliament UK petition which has six months to run. The target is 100,000 signatures. Every negative aspect of “permitted development” has been exposed in how MS3 works. This current petition, and the national campaign around it, will upset the Infrastructure Network Provider unregulated party: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/647970

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      A quick read of your blog, Ray, suggests it’s not just MS3 that are bullish. Seems to have gone beyond objection to local poles and become something of a crusade. Whatever makes you happy I guess.

      FYI local authorities are already made aware of locations of every pole before it goes into the ground and issue permits allowing the work.

      I’ve sympathy with areas where there are no pre-existing poles. Areas with them already, such as Shields Road, somewhat less.

    2. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Westlands Drive not Shields Road, my error.

      As you can gather I won’t be signing your petition and am not a fan of what you’re doing to the workmen or how you describe them. At least some of them get paid by the job and are losing out, which might explain why some aren’t super polite with you folks. Given the comments you’ve written on your blog if that reflects your attitude with them you’re hardly defusing the situation yourself demanding paperwork they don’t need to carry, recording them working to try and find any faults and calling them ‘cowboys’.

      People tend to get tetchy and defensive when others are threatening their livelihood: basic human nature.

      The regulator for them is your local authority’s highways/streetworks department in case you missed that. Same as it is for everyone else digging up roads and pavements in your area. Consult your local authority if you’ve concerns: they’re the ones giving out the permits and signing off on the work after completion.

    3. Avatar photo James says:

      Agree with XGS.

      Not sure why you’d enjoy overpaying for a product that someone else is trying to give you for around half the price.

      Bizarre. Anyway

  7. Avatar photo Ray Duffill says:

    XGS – I would be delighted if the LA chose to be the regulator. The LA (East Riding of Yorkshire Council) issued a statement saying that regulation is the responsibility of OFCOM.

    In the main the relations between those protesting and MS3’s chosen contractors are okay. It’s just the lack of engagement, notice and lack of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme with MS3 Networks itself that is at issue. Residents have nowhere to take complaints outside of the company itself. The council won’t do anything, OFCOM has limited powers, politicians are doing nothing – so hence the opposition!

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      You aren’t customers of MS3 and have no contract with them to enter into dispute over. You can’t take them to ADR over this any more than I could take KCom to ADR. Not a customer, have no active order, no dispute.

      The pavements, roads and verges aren’t your property and responsibility for what goes in them is fundamentally with the local authority: they’re responsible for maintenance of them.

      You may object to placement of apparatus once it’s been placed and the law requires MS3 to provide information on how to complain. They are, however, exercising their legal rights to place them.

      They aren’t your pavements, verges or roads. You collectively have no right to obstruct these guys in exercising the rights granted them by law. You may not like it but you don’t have any right prevent pavement.

      Local authorities can refuse permits to place the poles for a few reasons, but because the resident hyperlocal blogger thinks the contractors are cowboys or that the residents think they’ll ruin their views of the 60s semi across the road isn’t one.

      According to the law you guys are in the wrong, and IMHO the remedy you are asking for is grossly disproportionate.

      Why is everyone so fixated on MS3 rather than that in the rest of the UK outside of KCom’s area pole and ducting sharing is common? That’s the big difference with the rest of the UK: KCom.

      It not seem odd to you that not even Virgin Media have cable network in the KCom area? Leave the KCom area and loads of cable in the other ridings.

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