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Fujitsu promises rural UK 1Gbit/s - if it gets 'fair deal' from BT

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Fujitsu is planning a joint venture with Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Cisco to roll out 1Gbit/s fibre technology to five million homes in the UK, but the project hinges on BT's Openreach division providing access to its underground ducts and telegraph poles.

“The plans rely on the remedy imposed by the regulator Ofcom, on BT Openreach, to provide access to its underground ducts and telegraph poles on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms,” said Fujitsu.

In March 2010 telecoms regulator Ofcom ordered BT to share access to some of its infrastructure with competitors who want to build their own faster broadband network.

The Ofcom ruling meant Sky, TalkTalk and other big rivals could cheaply deploy their own fibre optics between local exchanges and premises, paving the way for more intense competition.

However, BT has recently come under fire from other ISPs for jacking up access prices.

BT, which has divvied up £2.5bn to deliver its own fibre broadband network to two-thirds of UK premises by the end of 2015, will finalise its ducts and telegraph poles pricing structure for other ISPs in the summer. But Ofcom could yet be asked to step in and regulate the process if the company’s rivals aren’t satisfied with the figures.

The telecoms giant today questioned Fujitsu's plans. BT told The Register that it was unclear from Fujitsu's announcement how much private investment the joint venture would pump into the project.

"It is important that the companies concerned make it clear that they are willing to invest material sums rather than just spend public money in what could be a multi-billion [pound] project," said BT.

"BT's network is open to others on an equal and non-discriminatory basis and whilst it is encouraging that Fujitsu and the other companies are making welcome pledges, they do need to be clear that this will be on an open, equal access basis as BT has committed.

"We do look forward to Virgin confirming that they will open their infrastructure to enable all companies to have the opportunity to invest in a new fibre future."

In December last year, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed that the Coalition had set aside £530m for its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) policy-steering group, which states that "government policy is that the first step to the best superfast network in Europe is to make regulatory changes that will bring down the cost of rollout".

Fujitsu, meanwhile, said it was effectively targeting rural areas in the UK where BT engineers won’t be laying fibre.

“The proposals will provide future-proofed connectivity to five million households and beyond that would otherwise be unlikely to benefit from commercial investment in next generation digital networks,” it said.

Fujitsu added that it planned to offer the “vast majority of areas” fibre optic cabling that runs directly to the home, rather than to the local cabinet. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t break down the numbers of how many people would benefit from fibre-to-the-premises on its network.

The network will be opened up on a wholesale basis to all ISPs, said Fujitsu, with Virgin Media and TalkTalk already on board.

“If done correctly this can be a key vehicle to accelerate recovery in the UK and bring genuine choice to generations of communities starved of participating fully in the UK economy,” said Fujitsu’s UK and Ireland CEO Duncan Tait.

But the plans could prove to be expensive for the joint venture or, worse still, may even come unstuck if BT’s access prices remain too high for its competitors. ®

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