BT PIA fibre broadband product fails to attract bidders

News 24 Feb, 2012

Despite a price drop and an apparently successful trial, no one has yet bid for BT's PIA fibre product.

BT Openreach has not yet received any bids for its fibre broadband Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product, even though it launched in November 2011, IT Pro understands.

BT has been trialling its PIA offering with other providers, including Fujitsu and Sky, on the Wirral, but it has not helped inspire any firm offers from other ISPs yet.

PIA relates to the ducts and poles Openreach rents out to other providers in remote areas, in a bid to bring high-speed internet to the UK countryside.

Once local authorities announce the outcome of the tenders, we will have a much better idea of whether PIA is a dead duck.

Britain’s number one telecoms provider came under fire for its management of PIA last year, with a host of rivals including Virgin and TalkTalk complaining prices were too high.

Even when BT cut prices, operators were still not happy with the changes.

BT didn’t explain why it thought no one had bid yet, but simply noted how it had worked to “launch a PIA product that meets the needs of industry and according to the timetable set out by Ofcom.”

“The regulator has been very supportive of the revised prices that we published in Autumn last year and we will continue to work closely with interested communications providers,” a spokesperson told IT Pro.

As for why other operators had not yet made PIA bids, Fujitsu, which is leading a consortium including Virgin and TalkTalk to bring superfast speeds to remote areas, said it was still collaborating with BT on “defining the final product definition.”

“Subject to satisfactory interim and final product definitions, Fujitsu may choose to use Openreach’s PIA products,” Fujitsu said.

TalkTalk said it was not planning to use PIA itself. “We understand that the product, while improved from a year ago, still remains expensive and difficult to use in practice,” a TalkTalk spokesperson said.

A Sky spokesperson, meanwhile, said the company was “still only at a trial stage” and was currently “focused on launching our wholesale fibre service and continuing to build out our LLU network.”

BDUK fears

Many may simply be waiting for Broadband Development UK (BDUK) funds to emerge before they make bids for PIA.

IT Pro understands BDUK allocation announcements are coming in the next two weeks.

“Once local authorities announce the outcome of the tenders, we will have a much better idea of whether PIA is a dead duck, or a swan just waiting for its time to flourish. LLU was similar in its first year or two of existence,” said Andrew Ferguson from thinkbroadband.com.

“Alas the race to make Britain a Great Broadband Britain is a slow one, with thousands of trees paying the price in terms of consultation documents. Real progress on the projects are not expected until 2013 - one or two BDUK pilots may start to deliver a few connections in 2012.

“The bigger question is this: why are new startups in places like Russia getting the investment capital to install fibre loops, but the UK is struggling to do the same with funds from here and there, or dare one say in usual British haphazard fashion.”

When BDUK allocations are announced, many expect legal issues to arise. Cumbria-based superfast provider NextGenUs recently indicated it would take legal action if its county’s council gave its BDUK funds to BT, according to the Br0kenTeleph0n3 blog.

Geo Networks, which is helping deliver superfast networks in Wales in partnership with the Welsh Assembly, has already withdrawn bidding for Government-provided BDUK funds after claiming the market was "non-contestable."