I have received some interesting feed-back since I blogged on the apparent BT policy of not enabling fibre to the cabinet for exchanges which are mainly used by business in order to avoaid cannibalising its leased line business. One input was from a small firm which had tried to complain to the Office of Fair Trade, but been told the OFT had delegated competition issues with regard to telecoms to Ofcom. When they contacted Ofcom they were asked to submit a formal complaint. As an individual small firm they had neither the time nor funds to do so. They also feared retaliatory action. (You will note from the links in my previous blog that Ofcom has formally deregulated some of the exchanges affected so one can imagine the reluctance to act unless forced)
That raises the interesting question of who could/should collate the evidence necessary to sustain a formal complaint to Ofcom. In the case of the Smithfield area, the meat traders, and others, might ask their Common Councilmen whether the Corporation might care to do so. The jewellers of Hatton Garden, on the other side of the River Fleet, might similarly approach the Mayor of London, if Camden Council does not help.
Alternatively both groups might be more imaginative and ask whether London (City or Greater) has considered a Stokab solution as part of its planning process. I remember visiting with a Parliamentary group when the Swedes were originally planning a shared dark fibre network to avoid the chaos that would be caused by alternative network providers digging up the bridges and causeways that link the archipelago that is central Stockholm. The recent evaluations of what has happened since show a massive benefits and a phenomenal rate of return on investment.I had never realised that the total public sector "investment" was only 50,000 krona for the original study. Stokab was a public interest partnership funded almost entirely with a mix of soft loans and conventional bank loans, underwritten by service contracts from a wide variety of customers, public and private sectors, plus additional revenue plough back as the services came on stream and usage began to soar. No wonder Google is seeking to help publicise the lessons.
What is really interesting is how the incumbent telco also benefited from Stokab.
Given that the new BT management team is committed to a quadruple play strategy and is about to face serious competition from Vodafone - O2, EE, Liberty - Virgin, the Macquarrie Siblings (Arqiva, Airwave, City Fibre et al) at the same time as it has embarked on a price and content war with Sky, its shareholders (including me !!!) might well benefit from a similar switch from opposition to enthusiasm over co-operation in new infrastructure build for CIty centres. BT would certainly make a better, safer, return from the expansion in traffic that would result from businesses replacing their leased copper with fibre to the premises after fibre to the cabinet has not only whetted their appetites but given them the added business revenues to fund the next stage.
Conversely, BT content ambitions will also take a hit when Dublin leapfrogs London (let alone Bristol) with the provision of ubiquitous fibre to the premises. The cost to BT, as well as to the UK economy as a whole, would be very serious were our multi-media complexes, currently struggling with expensive and slow copper lines and exorbitant business rates in Shoreditch (for example), to emigrate en mass to a congenial cultural centre with cheap fibre and low taxes.
This brings me back to the original question of why BT is playing hard ball with "competitors" like B4RN (where I am also a shareholder - my younger brother was Assistant RCC Countryside Officer for Cumbria before he died of cancer, having been out on the fells the night the fall-out from Chernobyl came down). Why is BT not adopting a co-operative approach towards servicing communities that are also supposedly "uneconomic", albeit for very different reasons, there are no leased line revenues to canibalise?
I suspect that the reason is more to do with the adversarial culture fostered by those who believe that co-operation is evidence of a cartel, than with any rational commercial self-interest. That does not make the answers any easier - but it may help explain why the questions are so difficult.
For the context of the BT offer to Dolphinholme (which I suspect may be used as evidence to the Public Accounts Committee meeting next week) see the e-mail below, which I have been given permission to reproduce.
I thought you might be interested in an update on how BT is behaving around the B4RN patch.
We are busy digging towards a village called Dolphinholme (included in our list of postcodes for B4RN build out which RCBF/BT and LCC have had for a very long time). As we are getting close interest has climbed and some villagers held a meeting to see how to progress things into the village and the distribution around it.
One inhabitant of the village is very pro BT and went back to Lancashire County Council to ask for an update on where the Lancashire County Council SFBB project was in relationship to Dolphinholme.
LCC wrote back saying they were going to deliver SFBB soon and there was no need for them to support B4RN, the villager then emailed everyone saying B4RN wasn't needed as BT were going to do it.
I responded saying the patch was in the B4RN build out and we thought we had an agreement that LCC's build out wouldn't overbuild us. Also that because the village was a long way from the exchange and there was no PCP then FTTC would not deliver true NGA broadband to the village.
This was apparently fed back to LCC/BT (see snippet 1/ below) and triggered what appears to be a general letter about to go out to residents, see snippet 2/ below
In view of Barry Forde's comments, I wrote and subsequently spoke to Andrew Halliwell, Assistant Director at the Lancashire CC, overseeing the roll out scheme throughout Lancashire, and he has assured me the roll out to Dolphinholme is still on schedule to arrive sometime between September and December, 2013. In order to allay any scepticism, Andrew Halliwell has agreed to give us written assurances and I will notify you upon receipt of same.
Due to the distance from the exchange BT will use FTTP technology in order to ensure that you and your residents in Dolphinholme get the best possible service.
This means that the cabinet location will not effect the installation of fibre into Dolphinholme as this will be fed direct from the exchange to the homes and business's.
This is excellent news for you and your residents and I will look forward to keeping you upto date with the latest plans!
With Kind Regards
Superfast Lancashire Programme Control Manager
So what do we make of the fact that BT are choosing to roll out an FTTP deployment, focused entirely within the B4RN footprint targeting the core of a village we are digging into?
Also that they can find the resources to do this between September and December, before any other bits of the county are done but coincidentally matching the time frame for our service build and go live dates . I've not got any data on which properties they are targeting but wouldn't be surprised to find it's just the easy to service core of the village and that all the surrounding isolated properties are excluded unlike our project that is 100% inclusive.
Have you ever come across a more blatant bit of evidence of anti-competitive behaviour?