16 April 2024

KCOM move ‘could be the breakthrough we need on broadband poles’

by Rebecca Hannant and Ray Duffill

KCOM has announced first steps to share broadband infrastructure in the East Riding following demands from protesters and Government ministers.

It comes as protesters against the proliferation of broadband poles in the region say that they have stepped up their activities in response to several key developments.

An MPs’ debate took place at Westminster Hall on Wednesday, March 13, which aimed to look specifically at community distress brought about because of telecommunications installations.

Data and digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez said that she would be hosting a roundtable event on March 25 for concerned MPs to determine the extent of such problems.

The minister also noted the Private Member’s Bill by Hull North MP Dame Diana Johnson which sought to add a consultation requirement with residents before plans to install new infrastructure. The bill was scheduled to be discussed in Parliament on March 15, but it was timed out of the agenda.

Campaigners held a demonstration outside Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart’s office to encourage him to support Dame Diana’s bill and take part in the roundtable discussion.

A representative of Going Underground said: “Campaigners expressed their frustration at the Government’s lack of inaction and response on this matter being seemingly passed from one Government department to another, to Ofcom to the council and back round again.

“MPs might be having a roundtable event, but campaigners seemed to have been led on to a merry-go-round!”

After the meeting Ms Lopez sent a letter to fixed-line operator KCOM regarding infrastructure sharing.

She wrote: “In light of increasing public concern, it is more important than ever for you to ensure that you are doing everything possible to explore the possibility of sharing existing infrastructure and underground network deployment before making the decision to use telegraph poles.

“New telegraph poles should only be in cases where installing lines underground is not reasonably practicable, and only after ensuring that appropriate community engagement has taken place and that the siting of new infrastructure will not cause obstructions to traffic or unduly impact the visual amenity of the local area.”

The following day KCOM announced that it had sent a feasibility study to Hull-based provider Connexin, to ask for its views.

Mr Stuart said: “This could be the breakthrough we’ve been pushing so hard for. At last, we have KCOM admitting there was more they could do to help their broadband competitors come into the market by making it reasonable for them to share the existing KCOM infrastructure.

“I hope it will end the ridiculous situation where there is perfectly good existing infrastructure already in place down residential streets which isn’t being shared.

“I’m delighted KCOM has put together a feasibility study to present to Connexin. Now let’s see how Connexin react to this. Connexin need to be given the time to consider what’s in the report to see if it’s something they can work with. This could just be the start of the process and I will work with both sides to find the solution.

“We need to bring this issue to a close as soon as possible this year with KCOM, Connexin and MS3 working in concert to bring broadband competition and lower prices to our area without the streetscape being strewn with ugly poles and wires.”

A representative of KCOM said: “Any broadband provider would be able to use the infrastructure sharing service that KCOM has developed, in accordance with KCOM’s regulatory duties. However, it should be noted that, apart from Connexin, KCOM has not received any other requests for access to its passive infrastructure under the regulatory scheme established by Ofcom.”

However, while the campaigners say that it is a welcome development, they argue that the timescales are “far too long”, with infrastructure sharing only being possible in 2025.

The Going Underground group has also written to Ms Lopez, suggesting several items for the agenda, including urgent advice being given to local planning authorities on how to manage their relations with code operators or alternative network builders (altnets).

They also suggested that councils need to be confident in the powers they have at their disposal to protect the interests of residents and the local environment.