Free BT now!

It’s been an exhausting couple of days in Brum at the NextGen10 conference, trying to nail down the stories in this most rumour-ridden industry.
So what memes are flitting through the zeitgeist?
There’s a lot of money about for broadband in rural areas. The goverment has spotted £830m. BT by itself reckons it can match that. There’s a rumour of another £400m in government money waiting to be tapped. Virgin Media is trying to provoke demand. People who know the rural development agencies and the European funding agencies says there’s lots more loot there. And there are individuals too. Cybermoor’s Daniel Heery is preparing a prospectus for private investors to earn 6% a year from the fibred-up villages of Alston, Nenthead.
The business rates issue, still top of Virgin Media’s list of things for govenrment to do, seems to have slipped down the list of worries.Will communications minister Ed Vaizey mention business rates when he launches the govenrment’s Broadband Strategy at IT Expo on 7 December as the meme has it? Chief broadband mandarin Simon Towler can’t say, or rather claims the civil service code prevents him from telling me.And his press officer obviously can’t because the strategy hasn’t been published. Well, so much for what was once described as the single biggest barrier to investment in new network capacity.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that it is inappropriate for BT, as a profit-seeking company, to own and manage a regulated operation like Openreach.
Take one example: Erbistock, a small Welsh village, now buys its broadband from Rutland Telecom, which gets its backhaul from Fibrespeed, the open access network owned by the Welsh Assembly and supplied and run by Geo. Openreach had to quote Rutland regulated prices, but Fibrespeed, being unregulated, could quote whatever price it liked, Garry Miller, head of BT’s group public policy tells me. The engaging Mr Miller says BT Wholesale, which is unregulated, could have gone after the Rutland business, but would have had to at least recover Openreach’s costs.
So why couldn’t BT Wholesale have bought capacity from Fibrespeed and taken a lower margin than Rutland, I asked? Well it could have in theory, but it’s not BT’s present policy to use other peoples’ infrastructure, said Miller. Result: BT lost the business.
More later on on what’s really on the government’s broadband agenda.

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