Ofcom lays out fairer broadband plan to Openreach

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Finalised rules will take effect on April 1, 2018

Ofcom has announced plans enabling easier access to Openreach’s infrastructure for competing providers to connect their own fibre broadband to customers.

The regulatory body claims the measures will deliver fibre broadband to people’s doorsteps as competitors will be able to build their own fibre networks straight to them, using Openreach’s existing telegraph poles and ducts (cables laid in underground tunnels).

Reusing ducts can significantly reduced the time required to roll out a new network. It takes days to roll out 200 metres of duct using traditional construction methods, fibre cables could be installed in the same length of existing duct in a matter of hours.

Only two per cent of the UK has access to fibre broadband, in comparison Japan, Spain and Portugal boasts over 70 per cent coverage.

Fairer measures 

The main proposals announced today are:

  • Access on fair terms: Providers should be able to lay fibre using BT’s ducts and poles as easily as BT itself; and the cost to BT for providing this access should be spread across all users
  • Network ‘ready for use’: Openreach must repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them.
  • Mixed-use networks: Companies can lay fibre for consumers and large businesses, provided the purpose of the network is primarily to deliver broadband to homes and small offices
  • Final connections into homes: BT should ensure capacity is available on its telegraph poles for additional fibre cables that connect buildings to a competitor’s network.
  • Better information: Openreach will continue to develop a ‘digital map’ of its duct and pole network so competitors can plan new networks.

Reducing reliance

Ofcom said in a statement “network competition can deliver significant benefits to consumers through choice and innovation” and “reduce the country’s historical reliance on Openreach”.

Consumers should also see higher quality service for cheaper prices from the measures announced today.

Consultation of today’s measure will close on June 15 with Ofcom finalising them in early 2018. The new rules will take effect on April 1, 2018.

Level playing field

Ofcom Competition Policy Director Yih-Choung Teh said: “People increasingly need fast, reliable broadband. We’ll make it easier for companies to offer their own full-fibre broadband more cheaply by accessing Openreach’s tunnels and telegraph poles.

“This will put other providers on a level playing field with BT, so they have the confidence to invest in their own full-fibre networks.”

Minister of State for digital and culture Matt Hancock added: “Ofcom’s proposals are good news for consumers, businesses, and the country.

“We hope that that BT’s competitors will make the most of this opportunity to invest in the next generation of ultrafast internet connections.”

Unlikely

Cable.co.uk consumer telecoms analyst Dan Howdle agrees the measures will improve services and offer cheaper prices to consumers. But begs to differ on major providers utilising Openreach’s poles and ducts.

“While it is unlikely that BT’s primary competitors will want to use Openreach’s poles and ducts to launch their own nationwide networks – the cost of such an undertaking would be gargantuan – improved access does invite greater competition from smaller providers whose goal it is to serve a specific region or locale.

“Whichever way you look at it Ofcom’s move today will further stoke the fires of competition, which in turn will lead to more choice, cheaper broadband deals, and better customer service.”

Challenging

Ofcom expects entry costs to Openreach’s infrastructure to be made cheaper with the measures.

An Openreach spokesman told Mobile News investment in more full fibre and upgrading not spots will be “harder” if the regulatory body forces BT’s infrastructure arm to “cover the upfront entry costs for other companies.”

An Openreach spokesman told Mobile News: “Our ducts and poles have been open since 2011 and Ofcom recognises the big steps we’ve taken recently to encourage more companies to use them.

“As well as launching an online mapping tool,  we’ve made the whole process more accessible, user-friendly, automated and self-service oriented.

“We recognise that further improvements might be needed over time, but the economics of network investment remain challenging.

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