In the UK BT appears to be willing to open its ducts to all-comers. Sounds good, but the devil will be in the detail (probably). By Ian Scales.
BT's announcement - that it is ready and willing to open its duct network to competitors - comes from CEO Ian Livingston and was made to the Financial Times in the wake of a Conservative Party election pledge to force BT to open its ducts to other companies willing to lay fibre to homes and businesses in the UK.
Last week the Conservatives judged that broadband scarcity (as always) was a good pre-election issue and that it could sound tough on slow fibre deployment (and the causes of slow fibre deployment) whilst being fairly safe in the knowledge that BT would say little or nothing in its own
defence (after all why annoy the possible next government before it's even taken office?).
However, in response, Livingston said BT is already in talks with UK regulator Ofcom to open up its duct facilities to allow other operators to run and manage their own infrastructures, effectively spiking Tory guns on the matter.
Livingston says BT made an offer to Ofcom last year and is continuing to 'work' with the regulator on how the idea might be advanced.
Which sounds good... except that BT is pretty-well always in discussion with Ofcom, one way or the other, over the regulatory environment.
And in this case 'continuing to work' means that the little matter of pricing, terms and conditions and so on are probably still very much in negotiation.
It's the old "devil in the detail" problem yet again.
"I think what they're really saying is: 'We're going to open ours; so it would nice if everyone else opened theirs," says Yankee Group fibre specialist Benoit Felten.
He adds, "I would say it's more of a negotiating stance (than a promise) and the lever would be the price," says Felten. "As we've seen in France, just because the incumbent says 'fine I'll open my ducts' doesn't actually mean anything if the price isn't regulated. Nobody in France is using France Telecom's open duct offer."
Until there's more detail on the table, Felten, for one, isn't going to get carried away.
"The announcement is interesting but doesn't tell the whole story," he says. "I'm not seeing anyone from the alternative operator community jumping up and down with excitement."
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