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BT boss barks at TalkTalk for being 'copper Luddites'

Even though most of telecom giant's new fibre network is mainly FTTC

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BT boss Ian Livingston has blasted TalkTalk for grumbling about the cost of fitting fibre-optic broadband - and accused the budget ISP of clinging to its copper network.

The chief exec took to the pages of the Daily Telegraph after TalkTalk complained the national telco was creating a monopoly due to the amount it charges to install high-speed internet connections for rivals.

Livingston told the broadsheet:

These criticisms are coming from people I can only describe as copper Luddites. They don't want to see the UK getting fibre.

BT fibre is open to any provider in the UK on the same terms as BT - there are 50 or 60 of them, that's not what I call a monopoly.

TalkTalk wants the communications watchdog Ofcom to reel in BT over its wholesale price of fibre cable installations.

BT has invested £2.5bn in the fibre network to bring faster broadband speeds to two-thirds of Britain by 2014. It is also the sole bidder and hence sole recipient of a £530m taxpayer-funded pot to roll out fibre broadband for bumpkins and is separately chasing a £150m pile set aside for city dwellers.

In October, TalkTalk boss Dido Harding told The Register that she was concerned about what BT's pricing for its next generation of broadband products - most of which use fibre-to-the-cabinet technology with theoretical download speeds of up to 80Mbit/s.

She told your correspondent at the time:

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.

Since then, TalkTalk has tirelessly lobbied the government and Ofcom to put pressure on BT over its wholesale pricing plans.

But Livingston, in a stinging rebuttal, dismissed TalkTalk's concerns.

He told the Telegraph today that BT's rivals "are trying to stop the fibre programme so they can sweat their own copper assets. They are not prepared to invest in fibre. It's a shame they want to hobble the UK economy for their own commercial reasons".

All of which is interesting when you look at the other side of the debate - where fibre lobbyists have complained that BT hasn't gone far enough in "future-proofing" the UK's broadband network. They complain that BT is protecting its investment too much, to the detriment of homes and businesses in Blighty that may soon need faster broadband connections.

BT is rolling out fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and FTTC to about 65 per cent of properties in the UK. But many more will get fibre via shared cabinets rather than blown directly into their homes or businesses. The telco giant said the split is roughly 25 per cent FTTP and 75 per cent FTTC, which involves BT Openreach engineers laying fibre from the exchange to a street-side junction box. The service is then carried into homes and businesses via a copper phone line. ®

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