Hunt urges end to fibre broadband PIA wars

Fibre broadband

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt called for the bitter war between ISPs over pricing of fibre broadband infrastructure to end, during a speech yesterday at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention.

Earlier this year, a host of ISPs, including Virgin and TalkTalk, sent a letter to the Government complaining about BT's pricing of ducts and poles for fibre provision.

They argued BT was charging too much for Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA), yet the telecoms giant said its prices were noticeably less than the European average.

We need to ensure we do not make the same mistake in broadband that we made in railways.

Now Hunt has stepped in, calling for a resolution and indicating he may intervene with Ofcom to ensure progress is delivered.

"The process to reach a satisfactory conclusion on PIA prices for the use of BT's ducts and poles is taking too long," Hunt said.

"PIA has to be sorted out and quickly - in a way that allows fair competition with different providers able to invest in our broadband infrastructure. It's also important that we have a properly competitive market in retail fibre."

BT responded to the comments by pointing to a lack of competitor interest in its trials. In an IT Pro special report on fibre from earlier this year, BT was at a loss as to why rivals had not taken part in the trials.

It said the trials would provide real information on how the wholesale fibre process would work then competitors could make more valid complaints based on the lessons learnt.

"BT was keen to announce new PIA pricing earlier this summer but the trials were delayed due to some companies being slow to sign up," a spokesperson said today.

"The trials have been underway for some time now and the evidence is helping us revise the related prices so that they are more flexible and tailored to the needs of industry."

BT is to issue revised prices for duct and pole access in the coming weeks.

Over the weekend, TalkTalk reentered the debate, saying it feared BT was using public funds to assert a monopoly on the fibre industry.

"At all times BT is thinking about how it can recover the monopoly position that it lost many years ago," TalkTalk's group commercial director David Goldie told the Observer.

BT again pointed to its pricing, also noting how it had "provided reciprocal wholesale access to its fibre network from the outset," unlike other ISPs.

Hunt warned the UK risked getting left behind if more progress was not made.

"We need to ensure we do not make the same mistake in broadband that we made in railways - building our high speed network 45 years after the French and 62 years after the Japanese," he added.

"I am a strong believer that competition is the biggest driver of investment both at the retail and infrastructure level. But I do not believe the market is working as well as it should."

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.