Broadband News

ABC is critical of BT's 21st Century Network announcement

Access to Broadband Campaign (ABC) has issued a statement that appears to be quite disparaging about the BT Groups recent release of information on its 21st Century Network (21CN) vision. Three key points are raised by ABC:

  1. Not ambitious enough – reluctant to launch Fibre to the Home in the 2010 timescale.
  2. Vague – no clarity on the sorts of services they expect to launch, the types of data speeds they envisage. No clear statement of the potential benefits to customers.
  3. Heavy on benefits for BT and its shareholders and light on benefits for users. The massive cash savings seem not to be destined reduce costs to end users but to grow BT's cash generating ability.

The BT 21CN has been talked about for some time inside the industry, but never publicly, this week is the first time that many of the plans have been made public. The plans to restructure the PSTN network onto a broadband platform is certainly achievable now, but with the scale of the task BT faces (29 million phone lines), then some caution is to be expected. We agree that the details released by BT are vague, but this is probably because BT themselves do not have everything choreographed at this time, a lot will depend on what is revealed in the trials that were announced this week.

The announcement from BT should finally allow BT to move into a triple-play network model, i.e. with telephony, voice and video services. The video market was something that BT was excluded from until a couple of years ago. The precise speeds of service are almost irrelevant, and would the vast majority of the public care?

The final point raised by ABC is odd. As much as many do not like it, BT is a PLC these days, and has to satisfy its shareholders. A key point for the new network will be the amount of capital investment required to build the new network, and evaluation of the various options. If the key shareholders are not kept upto date or shown that the investment will have some payback then capital is going to be very hard to come by.

We feel that if the UK is to have a coherent broadband service, then at present the only option for at least 50% of the country is something offered using BT infrastructure. If the UK descends into a period of lobbying and committee meetings, then the crucial network build phase will simply be delayed, and 2010 will see us still with 0.5Mbps services, and a PSTN network that seems almost 19th century. So long as Ofcom keeps a tight hold on what BT does with regards to its basic service obligations, then extra added value services like video telephony should be open to market forces.


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