BT Openreach has cut the price of pole and duct access in a move it claims will encourage internet service providers (ISPs) to deliver broadband to rural areas.
The prices, which will come into effect in November, are 60% lower than the prices BT issued in January. BT said the lower prices reflect an improved understanding of the relevant costs - gained through trials which are ongoing - as well as detailed discussions with Ofcom over which of those costs, and how much of them, Openreach is allowed to recover from physical infrastructure access (PIA).
As well as revising the prices, Openreach has broken down some products into their component parts to enable communications providers to "pick and mix" which services they buy from Openreach. There are more than 100 PIA products and services. BT said the most important ones relate to access to spine ducts and drop poles. Spine ducts typically run from a BT exchange to the kerb and are capable of carrying new fibre depending on how much spare capacity there is. Drop poles are the most common final pole that can connect multiple premises.
BDUK, which is responsible for funding rural broadband, was criticised recently over the unfair pricing BT put on duct and pole access, required by communications providers to provide rural broadband, which was said to make such services "unviable" commercially.
"Other companies now have the certainty and low prices they need to build a business case and bid for BDUK funds," said Openreach chief executive Liv Garfield.
The price for pole access, used for rural broadband, is being cut from £21 per attachment to around £11 or less where several drop-wires are fixed to each pole, while access to the largest spine ducts falls from £1.16 per metre to 44p per metre.
"It is encouraging that Openreach has cut prices for pole and duct access," said Jennifer Dunn, policy researcher at Countryside Alliance. "If broadband is going to be delivered in rural areas it will take investment from many internet services providers to drive competition, and people in rural areas will welcome this first step. It would however be better and fairer to charge all ISPs a flat fee based on incomes and revenues from service provision, rather than paying for access in advance."
ISP Association (ISPA) secretary general, Nicholas Lansman, said: "Delivering superfast broadband to rural areas and tackling the digital divide is a priority for industry and government. It is important that companies have easy access to infrastructure when building their own network into rural areas and having sensible terms for open access to poles, ducts and cabinets to do this is key."