Broadband market ‘stifled’ by BT

A group of more than a dozen Internet Service Providers in the UK are calling on regulator Ofcom to end BT’s ‘monopoly’ of the telecoms industry.

The UK Competitive Telecoms Association (UKCTA), whose members include Sky, TalkTalk, EE, Vodafone and Virgin Media as well as a number of specialist business ISPs, argue that BT’s control of the Openreach network, the BT division that manages and maintains the national telecoms infrastructure, has effectively allowed them to throttle competition.

UKCTA has asked Ofcom to review several areas of particular concern. Firstly, the coalition would like Ofcom to give greater priority to competition in the marketplace.

The group maintains that although the current separation of Openreach from the rest of the market has resulted in lower costs and faster internet speeds for consumers, it has also allowed BT to gain a monopoly, since other service providers must rely on Openreach to connect to their customers’ homes and businesses.

UKCTA contends that all providers should be able to engage in the practice known as ‘dark fibre’ networking – which means laying down their own cables within BT’s ducts, and controlling BT’s cables using their own equipment.

This would be particularly advantageous to companies seeking to sell extremely high-speed data links to large businesses, but would also allow rival providers to connect directly to residential customers.

The group has also released figures suggesting that Openreach is consistently failing to meet some of its own performance targets and has done so for the past five years.

According to UKCTA, Openreach has a poor record when it comes to fixing faults on the line and putting new orders in place, especially in regard to business customers.

In addition, the group has criticised Ofcom for shifting its focus from ‘competition to intrusive sector-specific consumer protection measures’.

In reply, Ofcom has stated ‘we make no apology for protecting consumers. For us, that work goes hand-in-hand with promoting competition. The UK already has the most competitive broadband market of any major European country. Our job is to ensure that customers benefit … from good quality of service and a fair deal’.

BT has also released a swift response to the complaint, with a spokesperson saying ‘The UK has a vibrant wholesale business connectivity market, with strong competition and innovation amongst a large number of providers. [F]orcing Openreach to offer access to its ducts or dark fibre would increase costs and add extra complexity to the way UK businesses are served’.

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