BT has confirmed that it will allow its underground cable ducts to be accessed by other service providers, in a move that will be seen by many as a pre-emptive strike against a possible Conservative government later this year.
The announcement comes a week after shadow chancellor George Osborne said that the Tories will look to provide the country with 100Mbit/s broadband by 2017, and will force BT to open its underground infrastructure to providers to stimulate growth.
However, BT chief executive Ian Livingston denied that the telco had made the move in anticipation of being forced to open its ducts, and claimed to have informed Ofcom last year that it was willing to provide access.
"Other companies already have access to our exchanges, so we are relaxed about providing them with another form of access as well," he said.
However, in a hint that Livingston did have the upcoming election in mind, he added: "Open access to all ducts, not just ours, might help BT and others extend coverage, so we would like to see a future government support such a move."
The news will mean that companies such as Virgin Media and TalkTalk can complete rollouts of new, high-speed fibre far more quickly in areas where the necessary infrastructure already exists, and Livingstone put pressure on providers to take advantage.
"Although it's unlikely to be the silver bullet to get fibre to every home, BT is taking a considerable degree of commercial risk by rolling out fibre. It will be interesting to see if others are willing to join us," he said.
However, Gartner principal research analyst Fernando Elizalde believes that it could be a while before any service providers take advantage of BT's move.
"It could take maybe 12 months before any providers start to use the ducts, as they may believe there is a lack of demand from consumers for fibre-to-the-home superfast broadband that will hinder any immediate investments," he said.
Elizalde also said that many providers will continue to use their existing services for as long as possible.
"Until demand for faster uplink speeds and the need for more bandwidth to watch high-definition videos online really picks up, providers like Sky and Carphone Warehouse will continue use their DSL services to generate return on inverstment," he added.
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