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TalkTalk to Ofcom: 'Talented, lovely monopolist' BT must be reeled in

Just how superfast can a one-horse race really be?

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While broadband minister Ed Vaizey insisted this morning that competition remained active in the dash to grab public sector cash aimed at the deployment of faster fibre networks across Britain, TalkTalk's boss is worried about the lack of rivalry in the business.

National telco BT remains the only operator to have secured funding from the £680m Broadband UK Delivery (BDUK) pot to date. Fujitsu - the only other government-preferred supplier - was effectively blacklisted by the Cabinet Office after being labelled as "high risk". Vaizey's media, culture and sports department (DCMS) confirmed to The Register recently that the Japanese tech giant would be "scrutinised particularly carefully" before being awarded any further work.

It's a move that appeared to bear out critics who say the bid for BDUK funds is being turned into a one-horse race. It's a point not lost on TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding, who was speaking during a panel session at a Huawei-sponsored event in Westminster this morning.

She said that the fibre market was not as "vibrantly competitive as copper," adding:

"We should start to worry about that."

When quizzed by El Reg about those concerns, Harding said:

I'm not in any way - to be clear - criticising the regime as of today, but I think looking forward - whether it's in three years', five years' or 10 years' time - a large proportion of the country will take their phone broadband as a superfast product, and I don't think that we should live in a world where that is an unregulated product provided by the admittedly very talented and lovely monopolist [BT's Openreach boss Liv Garfield sitting] on my right.

And so I think the time is now right to start looking at exactly what that regulatory framework should be to make sure that it is very clear that both parties are getting a fair price.

Harding added that she had no idea whether TalkTalk was paying a good price for superfast broadband from BT.

"I simply don't know, but there's also no alternative," she said. "Over time, as we consume more of it, I should know and so should Ofcom."

Garfield responded by saying that her company had discussed pricing issues with the communications regulator and industry players previously, and said that she was willing to do that again.

"Let's see where we are in a few years. When there is absence of data there can be conspiracy theories," added Garfield. "If more data is needed to evidence that it is a very good price and that we are being a good citizen as well as a good wholesaler then that will be the kind of conversation I will have to have."

Vaizey had appeared earlier at the Huawei event to deliver a ministerial statement about how pleased he was with the progress of the superfast fibre rollout in the UK. The minister excitedly crowed:

"I'm delighted to say we've overtaken France and Germany".

He added that the government remained "on target" to bring 90 per cent broadband coverage to Blighty by 2015 with speeds of at least 2Mbit/s.

But Vaizey didn't mention the issue of viable competition for BDUK funds, even though Fujitsu has been effectively shut out of the process. ®

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