German telecom regulator pushes for competition in fibre

Agency wants to give customers a greater choice of high-speed broadband services

The German Federal Network Agency wants to move competition closer to the customer in the market for high-speed optical fibre connections to the home or office.

The telecommunications regulator recently published proposals to give customers greater choice in high-speed broadband services by allowing telecommunications operators to build part of their local loop with fibre instead of copper or to lease fibre from Deutsche Telekom. The proposals could also mean cheaper networking for businesses connecting up branch offices in Germany.

“We want more competition,” says Rudolf Boll, head of the regulator’s press office.

Former monopoly operator Deutsche Telekom has begun delivering IP (internet protocol) services such as telephony, television and internet access over VDSL (very high bit-rate digital subscriber line) to customers in some cities in Germany. It has asked the regulator to exempt its VDSL service from a requirement that it lease its infrastructure to competitors on reasonable terms, claiming that without the exclusive right to use the infrastructure it cannot fund the necessary investment.

The necessary infrastructure comes in two parts: an optical fibre-link from the central office to a curb-side node near the home or office, and a VDSL modem at each end of the copper connection between the node and the customer premises. For now, the Federal Network Agency has side-stepped the debate about exempting VDSL equipment from regulation, instead focusing on the provision of the fibre link.

Last week the regulator proposed giving competing operators the right to lay their own fibre in Deutsche Telekom’s cable ducts or, where this is not possible, to lease the company’s dark fibre. In each case, the operators would have to provide their own VDSL equipment in the curb-side node and on the customer’s premises in order to deliver VDSL service.

VDSL carries data faster than the more widely deployed ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line), which is why operators need to lay fibre to the curb-side nodes — the existing copper connections can’t cope. Faster upload speeds are another advantage for business users, meaning that small companies could use it to connect their web servers or outgoing mail hosts, unconstrained by the limited outgoing bandwidth of an ADSL connection.

The proposals must negotiate a number of hurdles before they take effect. A public consultation period, during which customers and operators can comment, runs until May 4.

After that, it’s the turn of the European Commission and the telecommunications regulators of the other 26 member states of the European Union. After taking everyone’s views into account, the regulator will issue a revised regulation, “we hope by the end of this year,” Boll says.

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