Hull MEP calls on Brussels to open up city's broadband market

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The Independent Online

The lack of competition in the broadband market in Hull has been put on the European Union's agenda after a local politician took her frustrations directly to Nellie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner.

Diana Wallis, Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber and a vice-president of the European Parliament, said she has become so frustrated that she has written to Ms Kroes and called on Ofcom to ensure that Hull's citizens enjoy the same level of service and price competition as customers elsewhere.

The Hull area is the only UK region not served by BT, as its local supplier was the only telecoms company not subsumed by the national provider in the last century. The local supplier, Kingston Communications, now called KCOM, is famous for its cream telephone boxes, and remains the sole supplier of broadband services in the region, despite companies such as Tiscali, Virgin Media and Sky all rolling out high-speed internet services across the rest of the UK.

Companies including BT are able to enter the broadband market in Hull, but have declined to invest in services in the area, saying it would be uneconomic to do so. This is partly due to the strength of KCOM's brand in the region, but also due to the size of the copper used on the local network, which is different from that used by BT.

Ms Wallis, a KCOM customer, said she has approached Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, about the issue after a "huge" number of complaints from constituents, but she has been frustrated that no progress has been made, and said meetings with KCOM last week had failed to resolve the issue. KCOM argues that it is up to other suppliers to invest in the Hull market.

Ms Wallis said it was an "absurd situation" that the rest of the UK benefits from some of the lowest broadband prices in Europe while residents of Hull have to pay up to twice as much for high-speed internet. "Businesses are effectively held to ransom, as there is only one supplier. That does not send out the right message to businesses looking to set up in the Hull area. Everybody is proud of their history and the cream-coloured phone boxes, but now it has got to the stage where people want choice and better service," she said.

She has called on residents to complain to Ofcom, putting pressure on the regulator to address the situation as part of a wider review of wholesale access in the broadband markets due to open for consultation in the autumn.

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