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When getting traffic moving slows broadband
Thursday 08 January 2004 13:24:00 by Sebastien Lahtinen

A number of network operators are expressing concerns over the Traffic Management Bill currently working its way through parliament and its impact on the rollout of broadband services across the UK. A group of leading CEOs have signed an open letter appearing in the Financial Times:

  5th January 2003

Sir,

Telecoms operators support the Government's intentions behind the Traffic Management Bill, easing traffic congestion and improving transport efficiency. But the Government risks inadvertently imposing excessive regulation with a Bill that underestimates the contribution made by telecommunications companies to businesses, consumers and the UK economy. We have written to Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, to express our hope that the government will balance the needs of road transport and e-commerce, before it risks undermining the UK's economic growth and international competitiveness.

The Bill contains various new powers, many of which are targeted at street works carried out by telecoms operators and other utilities, too many of which have not been properly thought through in terms of their impact on our industry. Our customers and the Government are urging us to continue to invest in the infrastructure needed to deliver high bandwidth services. Collectively, the measures in the Traffic Management Bill tip the balance against our industry and its long-term ability to invest in infrastructure.

Despite many false assertions, works carried out by all utilities are responsible for only five percent of congestion. The Government seems to be using the sector as a scapegoat for congestion caused by traffic volume (65 per cent), incidents (25 per cent) and Highway Authority works (five per cent). For example, the Bill calls for penalties for the late completion of utilities' works but not works carried out by the Highways Agency or local authorities. Surely, if it is right for the private sector, it is also right for the public sector.

Telecoms companies already face compelling commercial incentives to minimise the amount of street works and their duration. The majority of works carried out today are for time-sensitive new customer connections and repairs. In a competitive market, customers expect us to carry out new connections and repairs rapidly. Adding to the burden of regulation will increase our costs, but given that we already strive to work as efficiently as possible, the proposals will have little impact on congestion.

The Bill emphasises the need to improve planning to better co-ordinate street works. Telecoms companies already seek to coordinate with each other or with other utilities - though for timing and safety reasons this is not always practical; new customer demand and repairs to critical telecoms infrastructure are not planned events. However, we are limited by the availability of information on both public and private sector works. Implementing an IT system such as that successfully used in Scotland would do far more to improve coordination than additional regulations. As the Transport Select Committee stated, in their fifth report of 2002-03, the focus should be on "making the existing systems work before embarking on a further round of costly and disruptive legislation."

Any attempt to tackle congestion on our roads should apply regulation equally to all those conducting street works, including local and highway authorities. Unlike utilities, public sector bodies are subject neither to the same degree of regulation nor commercial pressures.

By reducing the need for physical travel and enabling businesses to relocate to less congested locations, the telecommunications industry is already playing a vital role as part of the solution to the problem of congestion.

Bill Allan, CEO, Thus Group plc
Malcom Fallen, CEO, Kingston Communications
Royston Hoggarth, CEO, Cable & Wireless UK
Ben Verwaayen, CEO, BT Group
Simon Vye, UK Managing Director, Colt

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