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Hunt blasts progress on BT infrastructure-share plans

'You'll let anyone use your pole or answer to me'

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Jeremy Hunt is fed up with BT's slow response to pressure from communications watchdog Ofcom and ISP rivals over the telco giant's pole and duct pricing plans that are expected to be revealed later this month.

In a speech at the Royal Television Society in Cambridge last night, the culture secretary said he was concerned about Blighty lagging behind other countries if the underlying infrastructure isn't rented out by BT at a reasonable cost to other comms providers.

"The process to reach a satisfactory conclusion on PIA [physical infrastructure access] prices for the use of BT’s ducts and poles is taking too long," he said.

"PIA has to be sorted out – and quickly - in a way that allows fair competition with different providers able to invest in our broadband infrastructure. It’s also important that we have a properly competitive market in retail fibre."

Hunt said he would work closely with Ofcom on the matter.

BT blamed its rivals for delaying its PIA pricing announcement, by claiming that some firms were "slow to sign up."

It had initially said that the rental prices for rival telcos to carry their fibre via its PIA would be published in the summer.

The company has been trialling its duct and pole sharing plans with Sky since April this year.

"BT volunteered to open its ducts and poles to other providers last year and we have kept Ofcom fully informed every step of the way," a BT spokesman told The Register.

"As planned, we will issue revised prices for duct and pole access in the coming weeks."

However, any intervention from Ofcom – which has previously warned BT not to set its prices too high – could take between a year and 18 months to work through the system.

BT has previously pointed out that it isn't "dependent on government intervention or regulatory support" – having invested £2.5bn to roll out fibre broadband to two-thirds of the UK by the end of 2015.

Hunt, who has set an ambitious target of gifting the country with the "best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015", isn't satisfied with the current state of the market and called for greater competition in the sector.

"We need to ensure we do not make the same mistake in broadband that we made in railways - building our high speed network 45 years after the French and 62 years after the Japanese," he said.

Hunt is hoping to give every home and business in the UK access to connection speeds of at least 2Mbit/s by 2015. The government has so far allocated most of its £530m fund to local authorities as part of those upgrade plans.

He confirmed yesterday that Suffolk was given £11.68m from the BDUK pot, while Rutland got £700,000. That work is now being put out to tender, with successful bidders expected to match the government's investment.

During his speech, Hunt added that mobile phone operators needed to stop bickering over Ofcom's coming 4G spectrum auction statement expected this autumn.

"The volume of mobile internet data is tripling every year, and we expect it to increase 26 fold by 2015. We must assume that whether at home or on the move, the devices people use to access the internet will be mobile from now on," said the secretary of state.

He singled out other European countries, such as Sweden and Germany, that had already completed their auctions.

"Mobile phone operators must put aside competitive differences and work together in their common – and our national - interest to make this happen." ®

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