Small broadband firms aren't fussed about getting access to BT's ducts and poles

We'll keep laying our own fibre for now, thanks

Ofcom's move to open up BT's ducts and poles to competitors is the cornerstone of the regulator's strategy to break the country's reliance on the former state monopoly, but small fibre firms say they are not holding their breath.

In February the regulator announced plans to open up BT's Openreach infrastructure to competitors. However, it has yet to flesh out those plans with more detail expected this summer.

Mark Collins, co-founder of fibre firm CityFibre, said it is unlikely that BT's ducts and poles will have sufficient capacity to deliver fibre to everything. "There isn't a guarantee that the infrastructure will have capacity," he said.

"Ofcom’s suggestion is that there needs to be a proper mapping of BT’s infrastructure. But BT’s infrastructure is 100 years old, so keeping records on that is going to be hard."

Matthew Hare, chief exec of Gigaclear, which is focused on investing in rural areas, agrees. "We need a complete map of what is and isn't usable to know how it could work. Until we have data on a widespread basis it won't work tactically," he said.

Like CityFibre, Gigaclear is currently focused on building its own infrastructure, and has plans to bring fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) of 1.5 million rural homes and businesses.

Hare also believes that the existing Openreach network is likely to be sparse in the rural areas in which it is looking to serve.

CityFibre's Collins says that access to BT's Openreach network may complement its own investments "but it wouldn't replace our strategy to build infrastructure."

The business is currently present in 37 towns and cities in the UK, with plans to ultimately increase that to 100. Last year the company raised £180m in financing, which it used to fund its £90m acquisition of Kcom's infrastructure. Over the next five years it intends to have a presence in 50 cities.

"The challenge for BT as the incumbent is to justify its investments, whereas it's easier for firms like CityFibre and Gigaclear, as new builders we are obtaining a new revenue stream," said Collins.

However, BT has since promised build an additional two million FTTP broadband connections by 2020, in what might be viewed as a sop to Ofcom.

Collins added: "There is the question as to how much BT has the motivation to really help and support access to its infrastructure, it's not necessarily going to want to rush to do it.

"That might explain why duct and pole access has not been successful so far despite being available as a product for six years. Although BT claims there has been limited interest - and if everyone wanted to use it, it would have been used by now."

He added: "As a network owner and builder, I do have some sympathy for BT. When you have responsibility for delivering services to everyone on the network there is a slight concern if you have to open up the network to others. There is always an operational fear of what happens if they damage the network." ®

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