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Tories will force BT to open up ducts to rivals

BT already prepping for broadband colonoscopy

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The Tories continued their 21st Century bread and circuses election campaign yesterday, pledging once again to jack-up broadband speeds in the UK.

This time, Jeremy Hunt, the party's culture spokesman, told the FT that a Tory government would force BT to open its cable ducts to rivals to speed the rollout of new networks - a day after BT said it planned to do just that.

Hunt said that should the party come to power, it would redraw the regulatory regime to make BT open up its network and encourage rivals to pick up the baton and provide new services.

"What we are doing, I am absolutely sure, is increase the competitive intensity in the market between the major players, and that will stimulate much more investment," he told the paper.

Hunt did not identify potential re-ducters, though it's fair to assume BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse - both firms with the ear of Tory top brass - would be on his list.

"If you talk to the other players in the market, there is a willingness to invest substantial sums of money," said Hunt.

Opening BT's system up to other players would give the incumbent's rivals a quick and easy way to roll out their own fibre, without the need to bring the country's road network to a shuddering halt.

Hunt also lambasted BT's own network expansion plans, which do not promise fibre to the home, putting a cap on future speed growth.

He said the Tories would, as promised, scrap Labour's broadband tax, which is intended to fund the rollout of broadband in rural areas.

Instead, the Tories would use part of the BBC licence fee to complete the rollout. Which of course, has the benefit of looking like a tax reduction while paring back the [supposedly] Labour-loving public service broadcaster.

BT appears to have already resigned itself to a colonoscopy from its rivals and the Tories. The day before Hunt's interview, the FT quoted CEO Ian Livingston as saying it had been in discussion with Ofcom since last year.

"Although it’s unlikely to be the silver bullet to get fibre to every home, open access to all ducts, not just ours, might help BT and others extend coverage and so we would like to see a future government support such a move,” said Livingstone. ®

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