BT questions rivals' commitment to rural broadband

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Letter from rival ISPs sparks ugly spat over duct access

BT has hit back at rival ISPs after they sent a letter to broadband minister Ed Vaizey complaining about prices to access the carrier's poles and ducts.

In a letter signed by TalkTalk, Virgin Media and other industry heavyweights, the ISPs claimed BT's prices and terms and conditions for physical infrastructure access (PIA) could derail the Government's £830 million plan to take fast broadband to rural areas.

The PIA process is intended to give rival carriers access to poles and ducts to carry fibre services to the networks' extremities.

The letter claimed BT's prices were five times as high as the actual costs. "It would be more cost effective to build an entirely separate duct and pole network," the letter said.

We would question whether these companies are genuinely interested in serving rural Britain given their track record

In a separate widely-reported letter to BT - its contents confirmed as genuine to PC Pro by one of the signatories - the ISPs expanded on the gravity of the situation.

"We are unanimous in the belief that PIA will be a commercial and policy failure if [BT's] Openreach does not revise its prices," the letter said. "Moreover, we are united in the view that the product is unfit to proceed into commercial use."

BT disagrees

BT, however, has questioned whether the ISPs have an ulterior motive for the letter, claiming the references to rural broadband were misleading.

A source at BT told PC Pro that the company had equipped every exchange in the UK for local loop unbundling, but that in rural areas no rival operators had expressed any interest in rolling out services.

“BT is the only company who has installed broadband equipment in exchanges serving the last 10% of the UK and so we would question whether these companies are genuinely interested in serving rural Britain given their track record,” the company said in a statement.

The source went on to suggest that rival ISPs were using the rural broadband trump card as a bargaining tool to lower the PIA prices, which they could then use to offer services in more economically viable areas.

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