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BT to open up fibre cabinet info to rural rivals

Rural fibre broadband deployments are to become easier to plan, after BT agreed to tell rival ISPs on a regional basis which customer premises are served by which cabinet
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

BT has agreed to make it easier for other ISPs to find out which customer premises are hooked up to which fibre street cabinet, in a move that could help the communications giant's smaller rivals deploy fast broadband in rural areas.

In a blog post, a small ISP called Rutland Telecom said Openreach — the part of BT that manages its national network — had "caved in" following a meeting with Ofcom, Rutland Telecom and other small internet service providers. BT will now tell its rivals on a regional rather than cabinet-by-cabinet basis which postcodes are served by specific cabinets.

"For the first time in UK telecommunications history, the data linking premises to BT cabinets will be revealed and can be exploited to bring the benefits of next-generation access to rural communities which suffer poor broadband speeds," Rutland said in its post last Thursday.

Rutland Telecom was formed to provide fast broadband to three villages — Lyddington, Stoke Dry and Thorpe-by-Water — in the small rural East Midlands county of Rutland. It achieved this in April this year, when it launched an up-to-40Mbps service for villagers after installing its own fibre cabinet next to BT's street cabinet. The company paid BT to connect the cabinet with fibre to the closest exchange, a couple of miles away.

This process is called sub-loop unbundling (SLU), which is a more small-scale alternative to local loop unbundling (LLU), where a telecoms provider installs its own equipment in BT's exchange to avoid having to resell BT's wholesale connectivity. SLU makes particular sense in rural locations, where the population served by a cabinet would be more thinly spread than customers in a town or city.

However, until last week, BT would only tell rival ISPs which customer premises feed off which cabinet on a cabinet-by-cabinet basis. The victory achieved by Rutland and others forces BT to make this information available on a regional basis. This makes it much easier for such ISPs to plan SLU deployments, as they may want to situate their own cabinet next to BT's cabinets to make it feasible for them to connect it to nearby exchanges.

"Openreach takes its customer needs very seriously and, wherever possible, looks for solutions to deliver what its customers need," BT said in a statement sent to ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "We have been providing our sub-loop unbundling customers with the details of the premises connected to our fibre cabinets on a case-by-case basis whilst trying to find a solution to better suit their requirements.

"By doing so, Ofcom has been completely satisfied that we have been meeting our regulatory obligations. Following further discussions with industry on their exact requirements, we will now be providing SLU customers with this data on a regional basis to help smaller players better plan for their broadband roll-outs. The extent of our fibre roll-out across the UK means that this is a major undertaking, so it will be few months before this data is available."

Rutland Telecom does not wholesale its fibre services to other providers, so locals have to turn to that company for fast broadband. BT does not provide fibre connectivity in the area. If the company did, it would wholesale its services, possibly leading to lower prices, but it is avoiding the area because installing fibre provision there is not sufficiently economically viable, a source close to the situation told ZDNet UK.

Charlie Davies, an Ovum analyst, said on Wednesday that BT's U-turn reflects a Europe-wide "move towards increasing transparency into incumbents' access infrastructure in order to enable other parties to roll out higher-speed broadband".

"[While] BT has committed to an extensive roll-out of high-speed broadband, there remains a significant number of households which will be left with 2Mbps or less for at least the next few years due to the much higher cost of connecting up homes in less dense, ie rural areas," Davies said. "If community-initiative networks or other investors are willing to take on the investment, it is sensible that they are allowed to do so within a co-ordinated framework and are provided with the level of information they need to assess the viability of such as roll-out."

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