Ofcom needs to take action on broadband providers constantly digging up Hull’s roads - Emma Hardy

Hull is the only place in the whole of the United Kingdom that has white telephone boxes. They go back a very long time, to when British Telecom was introduced and the rest of the country ended up with the red telephone boxes that we are all familiar with.

In Hull, there was a company called Kingston Communications, which was owned by the council. When all the rest of the country was going to have red telephone boxes with British Telecom, it decided that we would keep our own white boxes.

The legacy of that, aside from the white telephone boxes themselves, was that up until a few years ago - as I was very proud to tell everybody - there was more full-fibre high-speed broadband under the streets of Hull than under any other city in the country. That is a pretty impressive fact. I think that we have around 97 per cent or 98 per cent access to full-fibre high-speed broadband within the boundaries of the city of Hull.

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We have that legacy of full-fibre broadband, but because of our other legacy of not having BT or Openreach, all the infrastructure within the city of Hull is owned by the new company KCOM, which was originally Kingston Communications. As a result, we have never had an awful lot of competition in Hull. That was great when people phoned up and tried to flog us broadband, because we could say, “Check my postcode. Don’t bother. You’re not going to be able to provide it to me.”

White telephone boxes in Beverley. PIC: Gary LongbottomWhite telephone boxes in Beverley. PIC: Gary Longbottom
White telephone boxes in Beverley. PIC: Gary Longbottom

However, we now have a problem where new companies are coming into the city. On the one hand, it is positive that there is competition; on the other hand, those companies are coming into the city and wanting to put their own broadband poles up.

We have a situation right now in Hull where three broadband companies, all at the same time, are either digging up the streets or sticking their own poles up, all wanting to be an alternative provider to the existing Kingston Communications.

Residents are incredibly upset. On some streets, it is not uncommon to see the poles of two different broadband providers, and in some cases even three, all trying to offer the same product.

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Some poles have been put in ridiculous places, and the building works have blocked people’s driveways and their access to their properties, causing a huge amount of upset.

If someone tries to get permission for a dropped kerb for their property, they have to jump through hundreds of hoops, yet any broadband provider can come along and say, ‘We want to provide broadband, so we want to put our pole there—and by the way, council, we’re giving you statutory notice and we’re going to go ahead and do it’. There is no way for anybody to tell it that it cannot.

Why on earth is Ofcom not forcing these companies to come to some kind of sharing agreement or arrangement on infrastructure?

Ofcom has been completely reluctant to intervene. It says that this is not a matter for it and that it is fair competition. Ultimately, however, the consumer is paying for all these poles going up.

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It needs to force these companies to work together and agree a fair market price, and it needs to stop each of them, individually, digging up the same road.

Emma Hardy, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, was speaking during a debate on Access to Broadband Services