Wednesday, May 04, 2011

UK - Regulator told parliament that it would set prices for access to ducts and poles in rural areas

[telegraph] Communications regulator Ed Richards has told a House of Commons Select Committee that BT is unlikely to set an acceptable price for other operators to access its network of telegraph poles and underground ducts.

As such access is set to be vital for the creation of a new high-speed broadband network in rural areas, Mr Richards said he “anticipates” regulating the market so that it is economically viable for other operators to compete with BT.

Traditionally, high-speed broadband has been associated with expensive programmes to dig up roads to lay new cables. New trials, however, are re-using existing infrastructure such as telegraph poles, drains and existing cable ducts to lay high-speed cables.

Damian Collins, Conservative MP for Folkestone & Hythe, brought up the subject at the Select Committee for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which is responsible for the UK’s broadband network.

Mr Collins asked whether Ofcom had a view on prices BT is proposing to charge for access to ducts and poles. Mr Richards said that although trials and commercial negotiations have already begun, Ofcom was likely to regulate because a mutually agreeable solution seemed unlikely to emerge by the end of the month.

“Where things stand at the moment I anticipate us [setting a regulated price] but we will let commercial negotiations take place first,” said Mr Richards.

Access to BT’s network is already regulated in many areas, and so regulating access to ducts and poles would not be a surprising move. Mr Richards statements, however, are the first time that he has said his intervention is likely to be necessary in this instance.

“Trials of duct and pole access only began last week so it is extremely early to speculate that Ofcom might need to become involved,” BT said in a statement. “Our current analysis shows our draft prices compare well with those in Europe but the trial will help us see if we can go even further. We are keen to agree the final prices with industry and so we would encourage more companies to join the trial, particularly those who claim such access is essential to their business plans. It is our hope that we can reach agreement with industry on this issue”.

Rural broadband prices set for regulation, says Ofcom

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