BT jumps the gun on Cameron broadband pledge


BT jumps the gun on Cameron broadband pledge

Alex Scroxton
BT has jumped the gun on the Conservative party's broadband election pledge after revealing it is now in talks with the comms regulator, Ofcom, to open up its underground duct network to allow rival operators to run and manage their own fibre-optic infrastructure.

Alongside plans to slice off a portion of the BBC's licence fee to fund improvements to the UK's broadband infrastructure, the Tories last week said that as part of their plan to provide 100 Mbps broadband across Britain by 2017, they would legislate to force BT to open up its ducts if they win the General Election

BT took steps to stress that its move was not a direct response to the pledge, saying it had been in talks for some time.

BT CEO Ian Livingston told the Financial Times that he "told Ofcom last year we're willing to provide open access to ourducts ... and we are working with them on how to achieve it."

Providers such as Carphone Warehouse and Sky Broadband say that opening up the ducts to rivals would not only spur fair competition in the market, but also allow them to install super-fast networks in already existing locations without having to dig up roads.

However, in the wake of a Court of Appeal ruling last week, optical networking infrastructure provider Vtesse has claimed that despite BT's pledge things are unlikely to change due to the way the government taxes fibre-optic infrastructure.

Vtesse's is fighting an ongoing court battle that rests on the case that it pays business rates on its fibre on the basis of a tariff that doesn't apply to BT. Last week the Court ruled that the Valuation Office Agency could continue to use different methods for calculating the amount payable by BT and its competitors.

"The court did not fully engage with the effect on competition where new entrants are taxed at 20 times or more than BT for the use of fibre," it protested in a statement.

The firm is seeking leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court.

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