Openreach Trials nomination scheme for fibre exchanges?

BT's infrastructure arm Openreach is to trial a scheme allowing communication providers (CPs) to nominate exchanges they want upgraded to fit in with their fibre rollout plans.

However, Openreach said the scheme is only open from September to December 2010, is limited to CPs already buying Openreach's Generic Ethernet Access (GEA) product, and that involvement in the scheme is subject to "certain commercial commitments" being met.

The exchanges would need upgrading due to fibre being required to run from all the street cabinets and also due to the larger backhaul requirements of that exchange.

BT's fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) rollout will serve two-thirds of the UK (around 16.5 million premises) by 2015, but the UK incumbent has only revealed the first five phases of its deployment plan, covering six million premises.

Quocirca comms analyst Rob Bamforth said that the trial "smacks of pandering to a broadband beauty contest".

"The first third of exchanges are beautiful, and profitable," said Bamforth, "whereas the final third are in the 'ugly contest' for CPs trying to get government and EU subsidies because they're so remote."

Openreach's scheme allows CPs to nominate up to six exchanges, which would be upgraded in the seventh phase of Openreach's rollout plan, due in early 2011.

A maximum of 24 exchanges, with a maximum of six for each participating CP, can be added to the phase seven rollout as part of the trial, said Openreach.

Those exchanges would then be upgraded for fibre in late 2011, or early 2012.

A big problem for CPs thinking about participating are the two commercial commitments Openreach is requesting from them.

First, if an exchange is deemed to be viable for commercial deployment, the CP must guarantee that 10 per cent of premises will be using its fibre broadband within a year.

Openreach said if that didn't happen the CP would be, "liable for any costs incurred by Openreach in amending its deployment plan".

Secondly, if an exchange is deemed by Openreach to be in an area that isn't viable for commercial deployment, the CP will be asked to "fund any additional deployment charges faced by Openreach".

Openreach said that the charges would vary from exchange to exchange and would only be provided following a detailed survey, "that will cost the CP £5,000 per exchange".

If the trial is successful, Openreach said it may extend the scheme to future phases of its fibre rollout.

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