Ofcom looks for competition at the wholesale level
Ofcom published a press release on 16th December 2003 laying out its position for the next 12 months, with regards to how it will approach regulating BT and the broadband market place. It is welcome that Ofcom are taking an active interest in the broadband marketplace, but what effect will a few reports have? Perhaps more importantly how long would it take for any effects to be felt by consumers.
Currently organisations with an interest in the wholesale broadband market place have until February 6th 2004 to reply, and then Ofcom will evaluate the responses and eventually publish a report. This means we are not likely to see any rulings until the middle of 2004, by which time the broadband market may have moved on.
There is no denying that in many parts of the UK, the BT IPStream ADSL product range is the only option for broadband at a reasonable price for consumers. The BT Datastream range which is used to provide a wholesale product resold by people like Telefonica and Tiscali has grown from almost nothing in the last 12 months to being available on around 60-70% of the currently enabled exchanges. While this gives ISPs a choice of what wholesale provider they choose, it all boils down to a BT Wholesale owned DSLAM.
If the UK is to see real competition at the wholesale level in the broadband market it needs more than one technology available widely across the country, and ISPs to have the option of using whatever technology they choose. At present the cable providers are closed shops, and no wholesale product comparable to BT IPStream or Datastream is available, and very much the same for emerging wireless providers.
Rather than nipping and tucking at the BT product range we would like to see Ofcom take up the mantle of forcing the wireless broadband licence holders to actually commence a nationwide roll-out. Additionally they need to look at ways that Local Loop Unbundling can be encouraged in a manner that will start to provide broadband at greater than 2Mbps for those consumers and SME's who want that service. If Ofcom carries on Oftels focus on the 0.5Mbps to 2Mbps arena then within three years the UK will once again be a back water for Internet technology. Higher speed ADSL services are available in Central London, but it is time that places like Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff and Edinburgh had that sort of option. The higher download speeds are not everything, for many people like home workers, there is demand for a higher upstream product, e.g. a 2Mbps down/0.5Mbps upstream product.
It would be nice to report at the end of 2004, that the UK is regarded as an innovative broadband market place with a healthy range of technologies and product options.