MPs prepare for broadband inquiry
The UK's leading names in broadband are limbering up for a star billing in front of a all party parliamentary committee next Tuesday.
On the agenda is an inquiry into the state of "Broadband Britain" with BT, Oftel, AOL UK, Freeserve and others slugging it out to put forward their positions.
The Trade and Industry Committee, chaired by Labour MP Martin O'Neill, has set itself a broad remit for its investigation. However, it's likely to seek more detail on the roll-out of broadband and examine the effect of competition on the broadband landscape against the backdrop of BT's own roll-out of ADSL and its supporting marketing operation.
Despite long-running criticism from rivals and lobby groups, BT is likely to mount a robust defence of its handling of the roll-out of broadband and its position as a dominant player. It's expected to argue that the UK has the fastest-growing and most competitive market in Europe, coming second only to Germany in terms of size.
And if an interview with BT chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, in last week's Independent on Sunday is anything to go by, it will also call for a relaxed regulatory regime from new communications regulator Ofcom. In that interview Sir Christopher called for an end to the "complaints culture" that results in some alternative carriers "using complaints as a method of doing business".
It seems BT is fed up with a culture of "whinging and whining", as one insider described it, that drones on from the sector.
For its part, telecoms regulator Oftel, which is to be replaced by Ofcom at the end of the year, is unlikely to argue that it has failed to bring competition to the UK's broadband sector. Indeed, this week Oftel boss David Edmonds told the FT that he was happy with current wholesale cost levels for broadband and content with the state of the broadband landscape in the UK. His words come ahead of review into the UK's broadband market due out next month.
From that interview, it seems that Oftel regards that it's done its work. Of course, that's not to say that Oftel won't be challenged on that assumption by MPs.
Indeed, those leading the verbal charge are expected to be Freeserve and AOL UK, who are likely to call for greater competition and a relaxation of BT's stranglehold on the delivery of ADSL. No doubt they will also express their views on how broadband can be rolled out to those punters in rural areas.
It'll then be up to the MPs to take a view of the evidence supplied. ®