Here's how telecoms works in the UK, how's it work in the US?

I've always wanted to know how the telecoms industry works in the US. All I know is that you guys use a lot of cable and everyone seems to hate Comcast!

In the UK, the General Post Office had control over our telephone network way back at the start of the twentieth century and were a government controlled monopoly. Decades later, in 1980, British Telecom was born, a part of the post office, who I'll refer to as BT from this point onwards. BT became independent of the Post Office in 1981 and gained control over the telephone network, its operation and maintenance. It was privatised in 1984 by Margaret Thatcher's government. It's the oldest telecoms company in the world, tracing it all the way back to 1846 to where we are now.

As BT transitioned to public, legislation was passed that ended its exclusive control over telecommunications networks though this had very little at a the time. In 1991 British Telecommunications officially became BT, as it is today but that's enough of the history! Let's get to today.

If you get a broadband connection here in the UK via ADSL it will be via BT either directly or indirectly. BT own everything from telephone exchanges, street cabinets and all the copper that connects us. So why can you get deals from so many different providers?

Our communications regulator, Ofcom, requires that BT lease its network. This means that all the ADSL providers in the UK have to pay BT for use of their network. They also have a Universal Service Obligation which means that they have to serve a phoneline to any fixed address in the UK. The issue you have here is that BT has a distinct advantage over everyone else so Ofcom decided in 2005 to effectively split BT into seperate divisions to try and stop foul play. Although they still retain some advantage, it's much fairer. These are the three divisions of BT Group that are relevant. They're all run like separate businesses:

BT Retail - They sell broadband service, among other things like TV, under the BT name.

BT Wholesale - They lease the network to other providers including BT Retail. Wholesale leases the network at prices proportional to they're needs so its fair. Ofcom regularly checks this too, to prevent foul play

BT Openreach - Openreach build out the network and maintain it. They're also responsible for upgrading it too and their engineers investigate faults on any line in the Openreach network which they have control of.

The larger providers like Sky and TalkTalk who have enough cash can also use LLU (Local Loop Unbundling) which BT was required to provide by Ofcom. It gives them more control over the service they provide over the Openreach network by allowing them to install their own network equipment within BT exchanges.

So BT own all the lines but other providers can provide service over them via Wholesale. They can also install they're own exchange equipment too.

The only other major separate network is Virgin Media who operate a hybrid fibre coax cable network. They don't sell out their network to other providers and they're coverage footprint is limited to cities and large towns only. In fact, they've actually been recently bought by Liberty Global which is American :D

Speed wise, the vast majority of exchanges in the UK supports ADSL2+ for speeds of up to 24Mbs and BT have 99% coverage. We're also very very close to getting everyone on a 2Mbs connection. As of November 2012, we have an average speed of 12Mbps. At the moment BT is undertaking a huge roll out of FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) where they install cabinets next to existing copper cabinets that have a fibre link to the exchange. It's kind of like having the telephone exchange within 100m-500m of you and that offers speeds of up to 80Mbs down and 20Mbs up. I'm actually on this service and get 75.6 down and 18.2 up. Again, BT Wholesale offer this to all other providers too. The plan is for everyone to have a 24Mbps+ service to all, though I forget the date promised. (2016 I think?) BT are also rolling out FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) which is where the Fibre link terminates in your house although on a much smaller scale due to the costs. This offers of speeds of up to 330mbs down and 30mbs up though BT tested it at 10Gbps so its future proof. Starting this year, anyone with an FTTC enabled property will be able to pay to have FTTP installed for between £500 and £1000 in most cases by Openreach though those further away from the Fibre aggregation node will pay more. Virgin Media, our cable provider, offer up to 120mbs down and somewhere around 2mbs up due to the way cable works.

I hope I haven't bored you too much, and feel free to ask questions!

So, my question is, how does it work in the US? I'm under the impression that you have nothing like BT?