It has been reported today that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has said about line rental that “the charges of around £18 a month are outdated” and “the minister is inviting BT, TalkTalk,
Virgin and Sky for discussions”. See the article on the BBC website.
I spent many years training BT staff and managers on broadband technology, and now advise many home users on “getting connected”. I agree with the minister: people don’t understand why they should have to pay BT for a phone line if they never make or receive phones calls … they just want broadband. Many people (especially younger people) now make and receive calls only on mobile phones.At the moment, BT and customers think there is a “phone line” and that some people do broadband over it.
In truth we have a “comms line” which some people use for broadband, some people use for phone calls, and some people use for both. There are two distinct things: (1) the physical connection, and (2) the service(s) which run over it. Until people understand that, there will be confusion.
We should rent our “comms line” from BT Openreach (which should be taken away from BT and just called “Openreach”) and then just buy whatever services over our comms line from whoever at whatever price.
That way we’d see what each element really costs, and there would be no cross-subsidy. Does maintaining a copper wire really cost £17.99 a month?
The “comms line” could also be provided by Virgin Media (as now) or by 4G mobile suppliers, and again regulation should separate the “comms line” from the services which use it … so we’d be able to buy phone, broadband, and maybe TV from any supplier who was willing to provide service over our comms line. So if I have a Virgin Media cable line, I should be able to get phone and/or broadband service over that line from suppliers other than Virgin.
As I say, we should separate the provision and maintenance of the line from the services that use it. Unless consumers pay for them
separately they won’t think of them separately, and there will be
hidden cross-subsidy and lack of competition.