Regular readers of HomeNetworking01.info will have come across articles about highly-competitive Internet and “triple-play” service being offered at rock-bottom prices in France. Similarly, I have highlighted some activity in the UK where real broadband has been brought out to rural areas in parts of the UK courtesy of independent operators. Why is this so?
One main factor is that the European Union government and some of the national governments have taken action to have competition in the telecommunications and Internet sector. Countries like France and the UK have given their telecommunications authorities and competition authorities “teeth” to tackle uncompetitive trade practices in this sector.
Having a cable-TV operator offering a cable-modem service in the area wasn’t good enough as a competitive service because this allowed a cosy duopoly to exist as is what is happening in most US cities. This is where an incumbent “Baby Bell” operator, typically bought again by AT&T or Verizon, offers DSL and, perhaps, fibre-optic service while a cable operator like Comcast or Time Warner Cable who has the run of the city offers the cable-modem Internet service for that area. It limits the customer to two options for the fixed broadband Internet service.
One of the practices included local-loop unbundling also known as “dégroupage” in France where competing telecommunications and Internet providers can set up equipment in or beside the equipment owned by the established telecommunications company and connect the local copper loop between the customer’s premises and their own equipment. Another practice performed by the UK government was to humiliate the incumbent telecommunications company to provide access to this local loop at reasonable prices.
This also extends to issues of Net Neutrality where a cartel of service providers could reduce access to competing or “over-the-top” Internet services like VoIP telephony, IPTV services and similar services. It also covers the issue of quality of service which can affect a lot of the Internet activity that we do.
Some countries like Germany and Italy have given their incumbent telecommunications providers a bit too much leeway by applying one rule for the incumbent and another rule for other Internet service providers. This is compared to areas like France who have at least five Internet service providers offering a high-quality triple-play service in nearly all urban areas.
What is needed for a competitive Internet service to exist is for competing Internet providers to have access to infrastructure that runs to the customer’s door, such as through local-loop or sub-loop unbundling for copper networks or delivery of service via different technologies like optical fibre; many different service providers serving a neighbourhood; along with providers like Free.fr who dare to offer rock-bottom prices for a residential / small-business telecommunications and Internet service. This can be facilitated with governments who have teeth when it comes to competitive trade and don’t kowtow to monopoly or cartel business interests.