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BT UK Pushes Ofcom to Open Virgin Medias Broadband Cable Ducts

Posted: 08th Mar, 2010 By: MarkJ
cable ductBT is putting pressure on Ofcom to ensure that rival Virgin Media is forced to open access to its ducts (underground tubes where fibre optic cable can be run), despite the regulators previous ruling that VM did not have Significant Market Power (SNP) and thus would not be forced to do so. Such a move would allow BT and its competitors to deploy their own fibre optic cable infrastructure without having to dig up lots of extra roads.

The move is hardly unexpected and comes exactly a month after BT revealed, under some political pressure, that it was in discussions with Ofcom to take exactly the same measures itself (here). However the operator stipulated that it would only take such action if the regulation was fair and applied to rivals as well (catch 22).

A BT spokesman told the FT:

"It is remarkable that those calling for open access from BT are not willing to provide it themselves. We call on others to follow BT’s lead in offering to open its infrastructure and content to all on a fair basis. Competition is a two-way street. We support Jeremy Hunt’s [Shadow Secretary of State for Media] call for open access to all networks and call for others to follow our example and to open their infrastructure and services."

Virgin Media has been quick to respond with a fairly standard statement that appears to shrug off BT's attack. However, in further comment to the FT, the groups CEO Neil Berkett called the whole idea a "can of worms".

Virgin Media's statement said:

"We've invested over £13bn in ultrafast broadband in the UK, launched market-leading 50Mb broadband and have announced plans for 100Mb broadband by the end of this year. We're currently focused on delivering these ultrafast broadband services to more and more homes across the UK."

Next Generation Access (NGA) services, such as BT's deployment of up to 40Mbps FTTC and up to 100Mbps FTTH / P fibre optic based broadband technology and Virgin Media's 50-100Mbps Cable Modem (DOCSIS) products, are clearly becoming the new battleground. This can only be good news for consumers who stand to benefit from a wider range of service choice.

Ofcom is due to conduct a fresh study of exactly this issue during the spring, though it is not known what that will reveal. Similarly the impending general election makes everything uncertain as both main parties appear to have radically different ideas for solving/funding the NGA coverage gap.
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