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Virgin Media Moots UK Cable Broadband Expansion via BT Ducts and Poles

Posted: 08th Oct, 2010 By: MarkJ
virgin media docsis3 uk cable broadbandCable (DOCSIS) operator Virgin Media has big ambitions for the future, with a brand new 100Mbps (download) broadband ISP service due to launch before Christmas. They also have 200Mbps service trials, upstream 20Mbps trials, plans to offer 400Mbps in the distant future (here) and may now be seeking to expand their network by using BT's own telegraph poles and cable ducts.

In fact Virgin Media is already working with Surf Telecoms, a Western Power Distribution company, to trial an almost identical use of electricity poles in the Welsh village of Crumlin (Caerphilly) (here). However up until yesterday the idea of using BT infrastructure to carry VM's service wouldn't have been possible.

Now Ofcom has moved to soften the regulation by requiring BT to offer Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) - HERE. This allows competitors to deploy their own NGA infrastructure between the customer and the local exchange via BT's duct and pole infrastructure. Indeed Virgin Media's response to Ofcom's March 2010 Review of the wholesale local access market made their position crystal clear.

Virgin Media said in March 2010 (PDF Statement):

"As Virgin Media has set out elsewhere in this response, we have identified significant opportunities for further NGA deployment using passive products – and thus have a strong and tangible demand for such facilities. Our realisation of these opportunities is critically dependent upon the PIA product being made available in a suitable form from the outset, at an appropriate price, on a strict non-discriminatory basis and absent any undue delay to its development and implementation. ... we welcome the proposed PIA remedy."

In response to a related question put by PC Pro today, Virgin Media's position appeared to be unchanged and welcomed Ofcom's efforts as an "important step, removing one of the hurdles that make such developments near impossible at present".

Still, such a move might force Virgin Media to work within BT's existing infrastructure and related controls. The cable operator had previously raised concerns that, "such internal supply [would] take place within the bounds of [BT] Openreach". Virgin added that "detection of any preferential or discriminatory activity [by BT] will to all intents and purposes be imperceptible to external observers".

It's still early days and Virgin Media now appear to be more concerned with how much BT could charge for access. Virgin will also need to tread carefully because using BT's infrastructure could potentially make them more susceptible to the same regulation. The rewards could be worth it.
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