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Bit-stream access refers to the situation where a wireline incumbent installs a high-speed access link to the customer's premises (e.g., by installing ADSL equipment in the local access network) and then makes this access link available to third parties, to enable them to provide high speed services to customers. This type of access does not entail any third-party access to the copper pair in the local loop.
The incumbent may also provide transmission services to its competitors, using its Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) or IP network, to carry competitors' traffic from the digital subscriber line access multiplexer (DSLAM) to a higher level in the network hierarchy where new entrants may already have a point of presence (e.g. a transit switch location). Bit-stream handover points thus can be at various levels:
Bit-stream access is nowadays considered a key tool for opening competition in the broadband market. It enables competitors to offer their own products to consumers even if they do not operate the local loop (the last mile). Bit-stream access allows the new entrant to use the high-speed modems and other equipment provided by the incumbent and thus avoid maintenance and investments into the local loop. This affects the economics of the service and places restrictions on the type of modems that the customer of the new entrant can buy or rent.
The main elements defining bit-stream access are the following:
Thus, bit-stream access is a wholesale product consisting of the access (typically ADSL) and “backhaul” services of the (data) backbone network (ATM, IP backbone).
Unlike unbundled access, the provision of bit-stream access services is not mandated under European Union law, but where an incumbent operator provides bit-stream DSL services to its own services, subsidiary or third party, then, in accordance with community law, it must also provide such forms of access under transparent and non-discriminatory terms or conditions to others (Directive 98/10/EC Article 16).
Note: bit-stream access service allows the incumbent to retain control of the rate of deployment of high-speed access services, and the geographical regions in which these service are rolled out. From the regulatory point of view, such services are therefore seen as complementing the other forms of unbundled access, but not substituting them.
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