The UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has unveiled a raft of new proposals it says are aimed at encouraging the deployment of super-fast broadband services across the country. The proposal most likely to ruffle feathers is that which calls for fixed line incumbent BT Group to open access to its fibre-optic lines to rival operators. Under the regulator’s plans BT would, however, be allowed to set the pricing for any wholesale fibre products, a caveat that Ofcom maintains would allow the telco to ‘make a fair rate of return’. Alongside pressing for access for others to BT’s fibre network, Ofcom also revealed that it was proposing that the incumbent offers its competitors access to its underground ducts and overhead telegraph poles, a move which the regulator claims would allow other operators to roll out their own fibre networks more cost effectively. The plans follow an action plan launched by Ofcom 18 months ago designed to encourage telecoms firms to invest in fibre technologies, and the regulator noted that as of March 2010 super-fast broadband was available to around 46% of UK households.
In making public its proposals, Ofcom has also said that it will continue to consider measures aimed at promoting competition in current generation broadband services. The watchdog said that it had reached an initial conclusion that competition is effective across most of the country, and for over 70% of the population it expects that no regulations will be applied. However, in those less competitive areas, for example where consumers only have access to copper-based broadband services from BT (around 14% of UK premises), Ofcom has put forward a number of specific price controls to protect consumers against excessive prices.
Commenting on the findings and proposals, Ofcom’s chief executive Ed Richards said: ‘Super-fast broadband is starting to be a reality in the UK, with very significant advances in recent months in the speeds some providers are offering. Ofcom’s proposed regulations provide a framework for continued investment, to deliver further rollout, competition and innovation for consumers.’