Media regulator offers only lukewarm backing

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THE South Yorkshire Digital Region project has suffered a blow in its dispute with BT after media regulator Ofcom failed to give full support in its stance against the telecoms giant.

Digital Region lodged a complaint with the watchdog in February following a series of long-running rows with BT relating to its pricing and the lack of automation in the services it offers.

Digital Region’s new fibre optic network needs to connect to the county’s network of telephone cabinets and wires – all owned by BT – to reach end-users, and project managers are deeply unhappy with the telecoms firm’s stance on a range of issues.

They believe BT is attempting to stall, or even kill off, the project while it rolls out its own next generation network across parts of the county – a charge vehemently denied by the firm.

Having failed to come to any agreement with BT, Digital Region hoped Ofcom would make the telecoms giant drop the price it charges to connect to its network and to automate more of its services – so making the Digital Region network more attractive to the large internet companies it needs to get on board if the scheme is to be a success.

But in its draft ruling, seen by the Yorkshire Post, the media regulator offers only partial support to Digital Region.

It does highlight two areas where it believes BT has been overcharging, and says the firm must drop its prices – but not to the sort of level Digital Region believes would be fair.

And the main thrust of Digital Region’s arguments relating to overpricing and automation are rejected.

“It’s better, but not great,” Digital Region chief executive David Carr said. “The indication we have had from BT is that this will affect the connection price by no more than 10 per cent.

“I don’t think the regulator is trying to help the situation. If I’m honest, I think the Government has a target to get a significant amount of superfast broadband rolled out and it’s very reliant on BT to achieve that – and therefore doesn’t want to upset them.”

But BT said the draft ruling confirmed what it has said all along – that its prices are fair and Digital Region’s problems are of its own making.

“Digital Region has chosen to use an alternative business model to deploy fibre which isn’t based on our mainstream fibre products,” a spokeswoman said. “That is their choice and their responsibility.