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Ofcom UK Warns its Powers are Limited on Broadband Poles

Monday, Mar 18th, 2024 (9:08 am) - Score 2,600
kcom engineer working on telegraph pole

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has responded to a call by East Riding Council for them to conduct an “emergency review” of the situation around poles and KCOM’s infrastructure sharing in Hull. But the regulator says its powers to stop such works are limited and that no rival had raised a formal dispute about KCOM, yet.

Telecoms poles have become somewhat of a hot topic of late. Network operators like them because they’re quick, easy (built under Permitted Development rights with only minimal prior notice) and cost-effective to build, which helps to spread gigabit broadband into more areas. But a growing number of residents in areas where they’re being deployed, particularly those that haven’t had them before, find poles to be ugly, obstructive and complain about the lack of prior consultation.

The issue seemed to come to a head last week after the Government’s Digital Infrastructure Minister, Julia Lopez, stepped in and called on network operators to “limit installation of telegraph poles” (here and here), albeit largely by reiterating the rules that operators already follow. Julia also called on Ofcom to provide guidance to local planning authorities on how to raise complaints, as well as asking them for support to tackle the challenge.

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At around the same time, KCOM, which is the incumbent network operator for Hull, made progress on the thorny issue of infrastructure sharing after sending a feasibility study on PIA (cable duct and pole access) to rival Connexin (here). More infrastructure sharing could, if made as viable via KCOM as it is already via Openreach outside of Hull, help to reduce the number of new poles needed.

However, Ofcom has yet to take any enforcement action related to poles or even investigate a specific complaint, which is in part because a lot of the local-level complaints people have raised don’t strictly breach the existing and fairly flexible guidelines.

Similarly, in terms of the KCOM issue, there’s a bit of a chicken and the egg situation going on because a rival network operator would first need to raise a formal complaint. But KCOM has only just provided a rough framework for a PIA style solution, which may or may not suit Connexin’s desires (if it doesn’t, and they reach an impasse, then a formal complaint may follow).

What Ofcom says

All of this helps to explain why the East Riding Council’s recent letter to Ofcom, which called on the regulator to launch an emergency review into broadband companies around East Yorkshire, as well as to pause new works until that review has been completed and boost infrastructure sharing, haven’t had much of an impact.

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The regulator said they lack the powers to stop such works taking place and cannot force other operators to use KCOM’s product (share infrastructure) if it doesn’t make commercial sense for them to do so (i.e. rivals, like Connexin and MS3, say KCOM has thus far made it too expensive to use and don’t publish their prices in public).

A spokesperson for Ofcom said (Hull Live):

“We’re actively engaging with all companies involved, but we have not, to date, received a dispute from any provider in relation to KCOM failing to comply with its obligations regarding access to its ducts and poles. Ultimately, we can’t force other companies to use KCOM’s infrastructure.

We can only stop them from deploying their own infrastructure in very limited circumstances, like when national security or public safety are at risk.”

The reality here is that Ofcom aren’t likely to take a deeper dive into this until the start of their next major market review, which is due to start its evidence gathering stage in the near future and that will then take over a year to reach a final conclusion. In the meantime, there will no doubt be further discussions between KCOM and Connexin, which may or may not make some progress. Meanwhile, the roll-out remains ongoing.

However, the Government do intend to “revise” the existing Cabinet Siting and Pole Siting Code of Practice to “make sure that communities feel engaged in the deployment of new broadband infrastructure, whilst still allowing operators to continue deploying their networks.” We expect more meetings and better notifications to be the result, which may add some extra costs and time to network builds. But it’s not clear when this will occur.

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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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Comments
15 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ryan Jenkins says:

    OFCOM have been aware of the Three ICNIRP fraud for over a year, they didn’t even ask their member to stop committing fraud against the public

    OFCOM does not have public interest at heart, it’s an enabler of backhanders.

    1. Avatar photo Craig Sanderson says:

      Spot on. OFCOM are too busy maintaining the status quo of legacy media broadcasts to bother with the general public. They have plenty of time and energy to go after new entrants to the news broadcast landscape.

    2. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Ofcom already answered on that matter: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/three_uk_limited_icnirp_certific

      On GBN they seem to be getting pretty gentle treatment, no real sanctions. If they’re so unhappy they could try obeying the rules they signed up to when they received their licence. The rules are abundantly clear and they keep breaking them as you’d expect given they’ve been pushing against them the entire time they’ve been broadcasting.

      When you’re edgy you occasionally fall off the edge. If Ofcom actually had it in for them, they don’t, they’d have had a fair bit more than just a slap on the wrist by now.

      If the right are outraged they did anything and the left outraged there was no punishment it suggests they got it about right.

  2. Avatar photo Former BT customer says:

    Ryan, in the case of poles being used for FTTP, it’s equally possible to argue that the public interest is best served by allowing operators to deploy the poles to facilitate the provision of service to consumers rapidly and within an acceptable cost window that providers can obtain investment to cover. If Ofcom restricted deployment of poles unnecessarily, it would arguably prevent rollout to several areas which would be otherwise uneconomic and leave residents without access to FTTP. This would be contrary to true public interest and in favour of an overly sensitive minority, who perhaps do not care about internet access.

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      And what about us that already have poles? Should we demand they are pulled down nationwide because some NIMBYs don’t like them? You either want internet access or you don’t. Tough sheet is what I say.

    2. Avatar photo Ryan Jenkins says:

      I think you are deluded if you think the public care about 5G.

      Not having my property affected because some spotty kids want to play video games.

      They can stick their pole where the sun don’t shine.

    3. Avatar photo Bob says:

      @Ryan No one mentioned 5G except you… and you think 5G was developed JUST for spotty kids? What are you even doing on this website?

    4. Avatar photo Mark says:

      @Bob
      As I have stated here previously, it really boils down to who pays.
      If some people don’t want poles and want things buried in the ground and across their driveways/gardens, then who pays?
      Why should other who have overhead lines subsidise other to have buried services either through their broadband charges or their taxes?
      If residents really don’t want overhead lines in their street then give them the options and charge them for installation.
      But I suspect they want buried services, don’t want to pay extra for them and couldn’t give a fig if others who have overhead lines subsidise them.

  3. Avatar photo Oggy says:

    Some of these pole complaints now are getting wild.

    BBC News – Anger over broadband pole near East Yorkshire war memorial
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-68560589

    Imagine using dead soldiers as a reason not to sink a pole on the other side of a road and further away then a lamp post that is already situated there.

    Absolute scumbag behaviour.

    1. Avatar photo Duncan Fairbrass says:

      No one wants this technology. It’s disrespectful to put these structures near people’s homes without consulting them and obtaining permission.

      For most people their home is their largest asset.

    2. Avatar photo Claudia Wallace says:

      It’s scumbags who are putting up these poles.
      How desparate does someone have to be, to earn a living this way?

    3. Avatar photo Oggy says:

      @Duncan. To say that people don’t want FTTP and faster internet is simply not true.

  4. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    CEO of Ofcom is going to need a lot of ointment . . . . .

  5. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    Actually I don’t think the poles themselves are so much of a problem as the rats nest of cables that now festoon them. Most untidy are when you’ve got several cables going between poles. It would be a lot tidier if they strapped them all together afterwards.

  6. Avatar photo Andy Ward says:

    There’s no question that poles are more intrusive, some would say ugly. What we need is a regulatory environment where the appearance of our streets has some value, and the regulator has some power and obligation to take that into account.
    There is a cost to pay for a better quality of infrastructure, and it isn’t a given that all of those costs should come from the profits made by the private sector offering the service. I have to say I think it’s unlikely the current government could be pursuaded to take that view.

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