Connexin Temporarily Pauses Broadband Pole Installations in Hull UPDATE

Following a “productive meeting” with KCOM yesterday, alternative UK broadband ISP Connexin has announced that they will “temporarily pause” the deployment of new telecoms poles in parts of Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire (England) as they “explore the viability” of the incumbents recent infrastructure sharing offer.

KCOM has already deployed a gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network across the entirety of Hull and also holds Significant Market Power (SMP) in that area, which is something that new entrants like Connexin and MS3 have long been seeking to change.

In an ideal world, KCOM’s rivals would love to run at least some of their new fibre cables via the incumbents existing cable ducts and poles. But while this approach works well with Openreach’s regulated Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product (saving time and money), it’s long been a different story with KCOM.

The law does require KCOM to fairly share access to their existing infrastructure in Hull (ATI Regulations). However, rival operators expecting the same level of access, flexibility and affordability as the regulated PIA solution from Openreach have often run into problems with KCOM’s confidential commercial terms, which up until recently were allegedly placing an unfeasibly high price on access.

The situation meant that KCOM’s rivals often ended up having to build lots of new infrastructure, such as poles, which tends to irritate local communities – especially those that have previously only had underground cables. In recent months, this also has become a political issue (here and here) and the government even called on operators to “limit installation of telegraph poles” (here), while Ofcom warned that it lacked that power (here).

A Change in Approach

After coming under increasing pressure to resolve the impasse, KCOM recently shared the confidential results of a recent “feasibility study“ into infrastructure sharing (PIA) with Connexin, which was promptly criticised by their CEO, Furqan Alamgir, who said (here): “KCOM’s feasibility report is merely a 10-page document full of blank spaces and bullet points containing “high level estimates” no firm pricing, no committed timing, and no conclusion as to whether they deem infrastructure sharing feasible or not. This from a company that says it is committed to infrastructure sharing!

In response, KCOM, which said they were “surprised and disappointed to read the negative response“, proposed a “quicker way forward” to Connexin and MS3 (here). The plan involved the formation of an industry-led partnership to help co-develop a new pathway to accessing their existing ducts and telegraph poles to run new fibre, which could be delivered expediently and efficiently and “does not require complex new systems before it can be delivered“.

KCOM said they expected to work with Connexin and MS3 initially in targeted local areas over the next few months to see if this solution could work across the Hull region that it serves. Connexin has today responded to that by announcing a “temporarily pause” on the roll-out of new broadband poles in “parts” of Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire as they “explore the viability” of KCOM’s proposal.

A Connexin spokesperson said:

“As a community-focused business, we have tirelessly campaigned for infrastructure sharing over the past two years. Our preferred method to grow our network, is to access existing infrastructure, in the same manner that all other internet service providers, outside the Hull telecoms area, are able to do with the Openreach network which covers the rest of the UK.

Our engagement with Ofcom, the government, local MPs, councillors, campaigners and residents, has led to increased pressure on KCOM, to share its existing network infrastructure more widely and fairly with other local providers. While KCOM has only talked of access in a limited area, we would like this to be extended to all KCOM SMP areas in line with the rest of the UK, to facilitate healthy competition for the benefit of customers in Hull and East Riding.

While we enter into detailed negotiations with KCOM we will temporarily pause the planned installation of poles in parts of Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire. This will mean a slowdown of our overall network build in the area, although we will continue to connect poles we have already placed.

As long as KCOM follows through on their offer with concrete processes and pricing for access to their infrastructure, we will continue to do what we believe is best for the community and what we have long campaigned for. This does not affect Connexin’s build plans in other parts of the UK.”

The announcement doesn’t clarify precisely which “parts” of the area are impacted by this pause (we’re trying to get an answer on that), and nor does Connexin specify the duration of the pause in pole installations. But the operator is clear that it wants to “show its intent to work collaboratively to the benefit of the wider community” in its ongoing negotiations with KCOM.

Connexin added that it was now “pleased with progress since KCOM’s March 26th letter offering to move more quickly towards network sharing” and it will continue its “robust engagement” with KCOM to “deliver the best possible outcome for residents in Hull and East Riding“. No doubt any frustrated local residents will reserve their judgement on this until they know the outcome and whether the pause benefits their streets.

KCOM previously said that they intended to launch the new process (trial/pilot) by May 2024, with the aim to see results from this new initiative by the summer. The incumbent is also no doubt being mindful of the fact that Ofcom recently began researching for their next Telecoms Access Review 2026 (here), which could potentially look to impose a regulated PIA-like solution on them if the industry-led approach fails.

Suffice to say, KCOM would probably prefer to avoid a strict response from Ofcom, while Connexin may not wish to wait the two years it would take before Ofcom actually implements something useful. Put another way, both operators now have some interest in being able to find common ground, but it remains to be seen whether the ship they attempt to build can stay afloat.

UPDATE 9:38am

In regard to which “parts” of Hull and East Yorkshire the pause impacts, Connexin has clarified to ISPreview that they are actually pausing across the “whole Hull telecoms area“, albeit with a focus on the areas where they are actively building, or planning to build at the moment (e.g. Beverley, Molescroft, Hedon and Hessle etc.). As above, none of this impacts their other deployments outside this region, but in those areas they can often harness Openreach’s existing network.

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