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which together control some 90 per cent of the cable broadband market, and with it the cable TV market. Altogether cable networks are available across 97 per cent of the population in the Netherlands. Te mooted merger between the Dutch

operations of Vodafone and Ziggo Group may revive the interest of both government and the regulator in the question of extending the obligation to open networks beyond those of KPN. While a successful merger of the cable companies’ activities in the Netherlands would represent weightier competition against the former incumbent, the government is concerned that it would also introduce a potential oligopoly. In September 2014 Dutch finance minister Henk Kamp stated that the Dutch government viewed open network access as essential, because having only two national operators is not sufficiently competitive. However, ‘Cable is fighting tooth and nail

against opening up,’ reported independent industry analyst Herman Wagter. ‘Only the incumbent [KPN] is forced to open up its network, on the physical level [both on fibre-to-the-home and copper], by the regulator (ACM). Te cable networks are all free from this obligation – but not because of lack of trying by the regulator...’

In assessing like-for-like rules, the assumption

that ‘opening up’ cable networks can be enacted in much the same way that local loop unbundling has been achieved in the telecoms world needs to be examined. Cable networks are not designed and configured like telecoms copper networks. As things stand, ‘it would not be easy to require

cable operators to “unbundle” – open up – their networks to third parties,’ said Ovum’s Julie

The technology argument against opening up cable is bogus

Kunstler. ‘It could be done, and the level of work required would depend on the level of unbundling, same as you can see in new fibre networks.’ Some fundamental issues would have to be

determined and agreed, Kunstler suggested: ‘For example, would the existing cable operator just open-up at the higher service levels, or do you want to open-up at lower levels in the network?’

Diffraction Analysis’s Benoît Felten agreed

that, while sharing of more detailed technical advice on the intricacies of cable network unbundling may be necessary, this issue should not prove to be a major stumbling block to more open cable networks: ‘Te “technology” argument against opening-up cable is bogus, at least for active wholesale. Unbundling might be more tricky and, as far as I know, has never been tried.’ He added: ‘Te main difference between the

telecoms world and the cable world is that in the cable world you have to share/resell frequencies. It’s complex, but not unfeasible. A bitstream wholesale offer would be technically feasible. A physical unbundling offer probably wouldn’t make economic sense.’ ‘Te problem with cable networks is that –

unlike their phone line counterparts – configuration to facilitate access by more than one operator is costly and requires investment in terms of equipment,’ said the Centre for Competition Policy’s Dr Nikolaos Korfiatis. ‘Te question here is who will be able to take over such cost, since the cost of installing cable networks was already taken over by the cable providers.’l

James Hayes is a freelance technology journalist based in Stevenage, UK

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