Businesses in rural areas received a broadband snub from Ofcom this week as the telecoms regulator poured cold water on the prospect of fibre being deployed in the local loop.
Fibre-optic networks deliver far higher bandwidth to customers than DSL can. Because DSL speeds decline with distance from the telephone exchange, rural businesses currently face inferior broadband service, if they can get it at all.
According to research by the Communications Management Association (CMA) on Wednesday, 41 percent of businesses cannot get broadband where they need it.
There has been much debate about whether fibre could provide an alternative. BT has trialled fibre in the local loop, and this week said it would connect all the houses in a new housing estate in Kent with fibre-optic connections. A slowly developing fibre project in South Yorkshire is also underway.
But Ofcom remains less than convinced. Delivering a keynote speech at the CMA's annual conference on Wednesday, the regulator's chairman, Lord Currie said: "For customers who live too far from an exchange, technically this is a problem that could be solved by fibre. But the services are not yet defined, the technology is not yet stable, and so it is too early for a regulatory approach. The case for digging up the road is a rather weak one."
When challenged by conference delegates, Currie admitted there might be a case for deploying fibre as far as street cabinets, but stood by his opinions over fibre being laid as far as individual homes and businesses.
Currie also grasped his speaking opportunity to assure businesses that Ofcom was interested in helping their cause, and not just pursuing issues relevant to consumers.