State aid by any other name…

It would be an understatement from my part to stress that I don’t think the broadband proceedings in the UK are going in the right direction. It’s the prerogative of any private business – including incumbent BT – to focus on short term gains when it comes to enhancing their infrastructure, but it’s a lot more questionable when a government doesn’t look beyond the short-term either. Furthermore, the BDUK process, by effectively eliminating anyone but BT and Fujitsu (and word on the street is Fujitsu won’t bid on anything) from any BDUK financed tenders has offered FTTC monopoly to BT on a platter. Not sure it’ll do them much good, but that’s what UK PLC is stuck with for the foreseeable future.

Still, despite all this (and I’m left to wonder where the free press is in the UK for this not to be splashed all over the mainstream newspapers) I didn’t expect the announcement that came through late last week. Under the (misleading¬†in my opinion) title UK Broadband Aided by Planning Permission Rules Change, the BBC explains that the government is changing the planning permission rules so that broadband deployment will no longer be hampered by local councils having their say on the deployment of street cabinets.

You may remember that a few months ago BT ran into some issues with Kensington and Chelsea opposing the huge cabinets the incumbent requires for its FTTC deployment. Well, the government is effectively saying to local authorities that if they’re not happy with these huge cabinets, they can go get stuffed. Of course, as the article states, the changes “are designed to make it easier for BT and others to install 1.4m (4ft 7in) tall cabinets”. Which others, I’m wondering?

First of all, it should be stressed that the choice of cabinets BT is deploying is not a fatality for an FTTC deployment. I’ve seen cabinets and form factors out there that are much smaller and would not have raised issue with anyone in local authorities. BTs cabinets are huge because of the technology and vendor choices they made.

Secondly, this doesn’t benefit “others” the way it benefits BT: no one else is deploying FTTC in the UK (and the active equipment is what requires such cabinets in the first place) and Virgin, while affected in theory is not actively deploying in new areas. So while they may benefit in the future, right now, this is a move designed to favor BT in the market.

Smells suspisciouly like State Aid in another guise to me, at the expense of local governments.