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BT fibre broadband: 'We'll open our ducts if you do'

Telco wants rivals and even utilities to open up too...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor on

Telco wants rivals and even utilities to open up too...

BT has revealed it is in discussions with telecoms regulator Ofcom about opening access to its ducts and telegraph poles to other broadband providers so they can install their own next-generation broadband fibre lines.

Last year the telco announced it would be spending £1.5bn on rolling out superfast broadband access to 10 million premises by 2012.

BT announced pricing for its consumer fibre products last month, followed by fibre products for business customers.

While access to BT's fibre network is open to all operators, with BT Retail and any other ISPs that want to offer a fibre service buying access from BT's local access division, OpenReach, the telco's competitors have complained this approach is not flexible enough.

Speaking in an interview with the Financial Times, BT CEO Ian Livingston said: "We told Ofcom last year we're willing to provide open access to our ducts . . . and we are working with them on how to achieve it."

He added: "Although it's unlikely to be the silver bullet to get fibre to every home, open access to all ducts, not just ours, might help BT and others extend coverage and so we would like to see a future government support such a move."

Last week the Conservative Party said a Tory government would aim to get 100Mbps next-gen broadband to the majority of the UK population by 2017 - with the Conservative plan focusing on forcing BT to open access to its ducts in the hope of encouraging more providers to enter the fibre market.

The Party claims a "British Telecom monopoly" is holding back other ISPs from investing in fibre broadband. However Livingston told the FT the impact of duct opening may not be as dramatic in the UK as in other countries where this has already happened as he claimed there are "plenty of existing ways" for companies to access BT's network.

"We will only know for sure once [the ducts] are opened," he added. "BT is taking a considerable degree of commercial risk by rolling out fibre and it will be interesting to see if others are willing to join us."

A BT spokesman said the telco has been in discussions with Ofcom for "a few months", starting last year. But if BT is to open its ducts it wants its rivals to have to do the same - in order to avoid the creation of "mini monopolies" whereby it's difficult for fibre users to switch supplier.

"The EU has been looking at this [duct access] for a while and we think it's coming anyway," he said. "It's important that all ducts are open because there might be opportunities for us to get to other parts of the UK we're not currently planning to go to as well as for others to get to parts - if there's open access as principle - but the important thing is if you're going to allow others to put fibre down then there should be some wholesale obligations."

He added: "Also if there are other utilities that might have pipes in the ground that might help going to people's homes we should explore that."

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