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Sky in surprise duct-and-pole-sharing trial with BT

'Price only indicative', so watch this space

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Sky has become the first major ISP to sign up to a duct-and-pole-sharing trial with telecoms giant BT.

The move appears to signal Sky's plans to deploy its own fibre atop BT's existing network of ducts and poles, access to which was made available following an agreement with UK communications watchdog Ofcom in March 2010.

BT also signed up business internet service provider Call Flow to the three-month trial to test out the system and assess "real costs" connected with ISPs deploying their own broadband network via the company's wholesale Openreach infrastructure.

"This trial will allow us to field-test the processes involved in allowing others to use our duct and pole infrastructure and build upon the accuracy of our assumptions before we launch the product commercially," said BT Openreach product director Fergus Crockett.

Sky has previously criticised BT rival Virgin Media for failing to open its network to ISPs.

"While BT's network and Sky's satellite platform are open to other service providers on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, it is increasingly anomalous that Virgin Media's cable network remains closed," Sky claimed in its March 2009 'Digital Britain' interim report.

"In particular, access to cable ducts, as proposed by Ofcom for BT's future fibre investment, would offer the opportunity for competition between end-to-end infrastructure with all of the benefits in terms of innovation and differentiation that this type of competition typically brings."

Recently Sky has questioned BT's poles and ducts pricing plans, but significantly perhaps, it wasn't among the signatories on a letter of complaint sent to communications minister Ed Vaizey earlier this year.

A separate letter to BT CEO Ian Livingstone was signed by Sky, in which it called on a drop in costs for access to the telco's ducts and poles networks. In that missive, BT's current pricing structure was described as "far from fair or reasonable".

Arguably, it's somewhat peculiar to suddenly see Sky sign up to BT's trial.

"I should point out that this is a trial and that as such, the prices are only indicative; by working with us, like Sky and Call Flow are now doing, we can all get a better idea of the costs and the processes needed and therefore inform decisions on the pricing we use for the commercial launch in the summer," a BT spokesman told The Register.

Fujitsu, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and other companies in the broadband market recently grumbled about BT's planned ducts and pole network access pricing structure.

Earlier this month Fujitsu, in partnership with Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Cisco, said it planned to bring 1Gbit/s fibre technology to five million UK homes over the next three to five years, if it succeeds in securing £500m from government funds.

In today's statement BT was quick to point out that ISPs that want to build their own broadband network by paying the company licence fees in order to deploy their own cables would be burdened with "significant capital costs". ®

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