Sharon White can raise Internet speeds across Britain by 100 megabits with smart policy. British Telecom, Vodafone, Sky, and TalkTalk would all benefit if White gets this one right. More important, the Brits get a much better Internet. The only losers would be John Malone's cableco and the now outdated policy for sharing of the binder. (BT has promised 10M lines of G.fast at speeds of 200-800 megabits. My examples here are from Britain, but other countries will face similar issues.)
Competition doesn't have to die. It does have to move from the cable to the exchange. Unbundling was a great idea in 2000 and is the main reason European broadband is 30-70% cheaper than American and Canadian. The 25 or 50 twisted pairs that run together from the exchange could be split between several carriers and performance was unaffected.
Future competition will require BT's local loop monopoly to hand off to others at the local exchange at the right price. The "right price" would include a profit proportionate to the investment. BT would be welcome to recover costs plus a profit; regulated prices would prevent exploitation of the monopoly.
That was the near-ubiquitous model for unbundling until recently. Currently in the EU, monopolies are being allowed to charge far more, after Kroes and Richards were blinded by a lobbying campaign brilliantly orchestrated by Luigi Gambardella.
(TELRIC) The telco, with a near-guaranteed profit built into the price, has incentive to invest. Others have every incentive to develop innovative offerings. In Britain, Sky delivers consistently better service by OFCOM's own data. That retail competition has kept Britain's prices far below America's despite BT having a monopoly of the local loop.
This sensible system was perverted by lobbying pressure and the lack of knowledge by regulators like Nellie Kroes. British Telecom (and Deutsche Telekom) have to upgrade or cable at 400 megabits+ would have an unstoppable advantage. They persuaded Kroes and Ed Richards they would not do the upgrade unless allowed near unlimited pricing on the monopoly parts of the network. Mathias Kurth, a standout German regulator, explained the problem years ago. He knew the telcos would be forced to upgrade without special favors and monopoly pricing.
White may not be able to impose the right pricing for competition. She's new to OFCOM and probably doesn't have the clout to take on BT. David Cameron's government has obvious weaknesses. It's always hard for government to move rapidly; the best results might come from Voda, Sky & BT cutting a deal.
Voda is in a rough position, capital constrained. The payment from Verizon is spent. The capex budget is tight. They've lost money two of the last four years. The Telegraph reports the dividend is challenged. They are very reluctant to invest in more landline infrastructure in England or Germany. They talk a good game about competing with fiber but BT knows that's unlikely. BT has a very strong bargaining positioning unless OFCOM takes a forceful position.
100 megabits more for all Brits is worth fighting for, but does White have the political backing? If she does, she can stop BT in it's tracks by not giving them the spectrum exclusivity. The British press doesn't have a handle on the inside game at OFCOM and I don't have direct sources to predict this one.
Going forward, sharing the binder drastically reduces speeds. Noise-cancellation/vectoring is now practical and generally doubles speed on shorter loops. That's too much to ignore. However, vectoring doesn't work as well in a shared binder. Deutsche Telekom is excited and hopes to reclaim their monopoly with their upgrade to vectored speeds above 50 megabits. British Telecom has chosen the much better performance of G.fast, 200-800 megabits. BT intends to allow some competition, knowing it's likely to die in a few years.
British Telecom is demanding a monopoly on spectrum above 22 MHz, limiting others to the lower frequencies. Others - Vodafone, Talk Talk, Sky - will thus be limited to 30-70 megabits. That could make sense in 2015, but most customers will be lost when cable is over 400 megabits and BT G.fast generally over 200.
I have a huge conflict of interest on this one. I'm on the Advisory Board of ASSIA, whose multi-tenant software might play a role in software unbundling. They have been my largest advertiser. I would have avoided writing this story if other reporters were on top of it.
100 megabits more to all Brits is an extraordinary opportunity.