If I’m honest I’m a little tired of the whole open network debate – largely because I don’t think there is very much to debate.

It seems very odd to me that people who are happy to argue that their own networks should be closed and vertically integrated are often well informed about the European open access models and the US net neutrality debates – that these great debates are basic human right but that they somehow don’t apply to their networks but should to everyone else’s.

Until recently it was certainly true that all but the very largest networks had little choice but to deliver their own internet services – but that was a market imperfection rather than a point of principle or commercial choice. That market flaw is easing – far from fixed but progress is being made – and it is no longer a necessity to restrict service choice.

I’ll accept that the very largest service providers are still unlikely to bite your arm off for anything less than a few tens of thousands of customers but there is a very large world of choice between no service providers and offering each and every service provider. Many of the smaller ISPs are happy to engage in local broadband projects, especially if they themselves are local – and what’s more they may be better attuned to providing a bespoke service to your new customers than many of the very biggest providers.

So why should NGA networks be open?

  • People like choice – it may not be the number 1 factor for everyone but it is very important and will be in the top thee for most people. With take-up being the top success factor, its simply not worth putting an impediment in your way.
  • Encouraging service competition is likely to generate more exciting, innovative services. As the capabilities of NGA networks, and more especially ALA,  become understood by the market service innovation will be more exciting than anything we’ve seen so far  but it will miss any networks not geared to delivering variety.
  • If you need support from public funds then you have no choice; EU and UK law insists on open access wholesale networks. Shooting the messenger doesn’t change the law, so frankly if you have a hole in your investment case open up and you might find public funds are available to help.
  • Without wholesale services, you’re footprint is deemed “NGA White” and the State reserves the right to intervene with public funds. It may not be likely and you may have a case to challenge publicly subsidised competition but by the time the law rules you will probably be no more – its not a fight worth fighting.
  • And finally I fully expect Ofcom to rule within the life of your investment that fibre networks are a natural monopoly and may either force you to offer a wholesale service or impose challenging regulations on you.

Or to summarise – there are no good reasons to have a closed network and a good many to be open – its not a fight worth defending.

  1. James Saunby says:

    I believe there is a further important reason for NGA networks to be open. ISPs need access to customers (just as customers want access to ISPs). If a significant area is not open access, and ISPs are denied access to significant numbers of customers, they will in time establish competing networks – but probably only to the commercially viable areas. The access to the leading ISPs in these areas will attract commercially viable customers from the closed network – making the overall closed network no longer commercially viable.

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