Friday, February 24, 2006

Who's that behind you?

A couple of days ago I was speculating idly that maybe the Euro mega-utilities would jump on the fiber bandwagon. Well, a Diamond-Encrusted Palladium Club charter mega-uber value member has written in with some timely research on the two German FTTH stories discussed here in the past two days - and as we'd say down in the German-speaking part of Texas whence my ancestors hailed from, it's scheisse heiss.

First, Netcologne, which yesterday announced a EUR200m FTTH plan. The City of Cologne owns 100% (90% indirect, via a 100% subsidiary company, and 10% direct) of a company called GEW Koln AG, and this company in turn owns 100% of Netcologne, already a credible broadband player in the local market. What's interesting is that GEW Koln AG also owns 80% of a utility company called Rheinenergie, with mammoth RWE as the 20% minority partner. So here we have a nice nexus between municipal government, municipal utility and a European power giant (by association).

Second, the Schwerte project comes under the auspices of (Stadtwerke Schwerte, or Cityworks Schwerte) Ruhrpower, which is 47% owned by the municipality of Schwerte, 23.5% by the City of Dortmund, and 23.5% by, whaddayaknow, RWE again. (The other 6% is owned by a joint venture vehicle owned by the three partners.) Ruhrpower's ISP/telco is Ruhrnet, majority owned by Ruhrpower, with a local collective bank and Versatel as minority partners.

What makes this even more interesting is that RWE has been one of the key European proponents of Powerline in the past, and even more intriguigingly, both E.On and Endesa (which it is trying to buy) have also both had PLC aspirations (E.On dumped it, Endesa has been a lot more serious about it). I'm inclined to think that the intentions are still there, but perhaps the enabling technology has changed.

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