In an epic that would see CityFibre Holdings portrayed as the downtrodden underdog and BT as the big evil overlord there is news today that the roll-out of a metro ring and subsequent sales to businesses across York might be challenged by BT in the European courts. Well so says the director of policy and regulation at CityFibre in an interview with computing.co.uk, though BT then dismisses the claims as 'utter nonsense'.
CityFibre has been working in York for some years now having completed its basic metro-ring of the city back in October 2011 which has been used by the council to interconnect a large number of council buildings (a project that was part of a procurement process in 2009) and it was with great fanfare that the first commercial customers was announced in July 2013.
While we support any increased coverage of fibre infrastructure in the UK, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend that the UK already has a vibrant market in terms of providing fibre to businesses and some fibre based leased lines have been a business option for many years. The decreased cost of fibre and associated infrastructure does make it easier to do more extensive roll-outs, but for CityFibre to suggest their work in York is aligned with what Google Fibre is achieving in Kansas City is a stretch of the imagination too far for us. In Kansas City as things stand the project is all about giving Gigabit connectivity to consumers, and Google experimenting with how the public adopt TV over fibre broadband rather than traditional DOCSIS based cable TV, importantly in the first wave of roll-out Google is NOT connecting businesses, whereas in York other than some student housing we are not aware of any residential roll-out.
There are questions to be asked whether CityFibre is able to offer cheaper fibre based services to businesses by virtue of the council contract, just as in the same way BT is pressurised over how it behaves in the BDUK procurement process. There is in itself nothing wrong with private investment to roll-out fibre infrastructure, it just becomes more complex when attempting to do this in a city doted with fibre to the node from Virgin Media and BT via Openreach in the midst of a commercial roll-out and that is ignoring the other fibre networks that other firms like Cable & Wireless would be able to provide.
The FibreCity project in York was in April 2013 said to be aiming to roll-out to 80,000 homes, which with a population estimated at 200,000 people equates to almost the whole city, and given the rules around EU state aid this obviously would have to be accomplished by CityFibre without recourse to any council funds. As things stand the City Council has been told that the roll-out of FTTH is due to start in Autumn 2013, and this is included in a Super-Connected Cities report of June 2013. The only way it appears that BT could block any commercial roll-out would be if there are question marks over the size of the contract with the local council.
"CityFibre has also been encouraged to focus on the business community (outside of the test area), recognising the Council Plan economic and job generation priorities. CityFibre is working with service provides to provide significantly better connectivity in some of our business parks and the first of these is ready to proceed, although its launch might be delayed to align with the launch of the voucher project described below as part of the Super-Connected Cities programme."Extract from York Super-Connected City report
At the end of the day a good clean fight to the finish, with FTTC from Openreach, DOCSIS 3.0 from Virgin Media and Gigabit fibre from CityFibre in York would be interesting, but the past has shown all too often that the battle is often won in the court room or through lawyers letters than actual on the ground delivery and the public and business making their own decisions.
There is no doubt BT does put up a tough fight, but in the world of business the friendly approach tends not to bring in the revenue, so is to be totally expected. Is a nationalised fibre infrastructure from a single supplier the answer to all the wrangling?