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BT Asked to Reveal UK Areas that will NOT Get Superfast Broadband

Posted: 28th May, 2010 By: MarkJ
fibrestream ukFibrestream, a community network specialist for Next Generation Internet Access (NGA) services, has called on Ofcom to force BT into revealing either the list of postcodes for the 66% of the UK population where BT will be investing in superfast fibre optic broadband services ( FTTC , FTTH / P ), or the Final Third where it will not.

The Director of Fibrestream, Guy Jarvis, claims that this would allow alternative non-incumbent (i.e. not BT UK) First Mile NGA providers like NextGenUs - Fibrestreams NGA Community Interest Company - to make derisked private sector investment decisions.

During this period, which could last for 5 years, Jarvis suggests that BT should be barred from selectively stepping into any such previously-identified non-commercial area which would risk chilling investment.

Guy Jarvis, Director of Fibrestream, said:

"This methodology will in turn have the added benefit of minimising the scale and nature of any residual Public Sector intervention requirement, very much in line with the Conservatives’ [coalition uk government] pre-election position re NGA."

However a BT spokesperson told us that what is being proposed here "is not in the spirit of competition and bad for consumer choice." The operator adds that where Openreach is rolling out fibre, people have a choice of broadband providers because they're "making it available on an equivalence of access basis to all Communications Providers (CPs)."

BT continues on to say that the idea of giving small providers "effective monopolies over 30% of the UK" could run the risk of allowing those "unregulated monopolies" to charge whatever they wanted to customers, and tie residents in to "one provider forever". Ironically that is perhaps how a lot of remote residents already feel under BT, but then BT probably wouldn't even be there if there wasn't a legal obligation upon them to do it.

So Fibrestream has an interesting idea but one that could carry a few risks. Preventing BT from having freedom to invest in such locations might become counterproductive to those communities. Ultimately if BT can get the service to them faster than a rival.. well great. Perhaps one solution might be to hold smaller providers to a similar level of commitment.

Guy Jarvis commented:

"Entirely agree that non-incumbents would have the same limitation of time upon delivery (build it or lose opportunity) as imposed on BT; If no localised or umbrella entity steps up then we are simply back to the current position of market failure and the range of possible remedies for that.

The key difference is that we have then demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that the hypothesised market failure is genuine and therefore that no State Aid objections are likely to emerge if Taxpayers Money were to be called upon (and in the current climate of austerity, that may be a monologue anyhow…).

Any community should be free to choose any 4th Utility partner, whether commercial or community interest – so long as that choice is fully informed and people know there may be better ways than being restricted to present-day choices."

The new coalition government has already revealed a basic draft of their plans to help foster the rollout of superfast broadband services, which includes working with BT to open up access into their cable ducts (underground and telegraph poles). We suspect that the approach promoted by Fibrestream will not become one of their adopted policies but you never know.

As for forcing BT to reveal where they won't be deploying superfast broadband. Ofcom are unlikely to take this course of action, not least because BT has yet to finalise its list of fibre optic rollout locations. However it should be noted that BT has already revealed a significant part of its deployment and by the end of this year we should have a pretty good idea of where it will and will not go.
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