Pure fibre infrastructure outfit CityFibre has accused UK telecoms regulator Ofcom of making ‘ridiculous’ policy decisions which it argues will cement fixed line incumbent BT’s position in the broadband market as a ‘single, unassailable wholesale infrastructure provider’. According to The Daily Telegraph, the claims form part of a submission to the High Court’s Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) which relates to the regulator’s plans to allow alternative operators to connect their own equipment to the high-capacity fibre-optic lines inside BT’s Openreach network at controlled prices.
As previously reported by CommsUpdate, in March 2016 Ofcom unveiled proposals for ‘strict new rules’ which it said were designed to ‘improve BT’s performance in installing high-speed business lines and significantly reduce the wholesale prices BT charges for these lines’. As per the regulator’s plans, Ofcom said that BT would be directed to provide access to its optical fibre network for providers of high-speed leased lines for businesses, with the telco required to offer competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, allowing them to take direct control of the connection. BT is already required to offer wholesale leased line products, which bundle the optical fibre and BT’s own network equipment, at regulated prices to competitors, but Ofcom has claimed that opening up the incumbent’s ‘dark fibre’ network ‘should increase the opportunity for competitors to develop new high-capacity services for their customers’.
However, CityFibre has now suggested that by opening up BT’s network, Ofcom will close off a significant portion of the business connectivity market to new competition. Indeed, in its submission to the CAT the company accused the watchdog of contradicting itself, noting that in the consumer broadband market it is encouraging BT’s rivals to build their own broadband lines into homes, while in the business sector the incumbent’s ducts and poles remain off-limits in favour of dark fibre access. As such, CityFibre has claimed this makes the regulator’s decision to make using BT’s infrastructure cheaper further up the chain of connectivity ‘ridiculous’ as it reduces the incentive to challenge the telco by investing in new fibre infrastructure.
Commenting on the matter, CityFibre’s director of strategy Mark Collins said: ‘Ofcom is clearly saying on one hand that it wants people to invest in fibre networks while on the other implementing changes in the business market that put up barriers to new competition … It sends the wrong messages to investors at a time when people are trying to raise money to build networks. Anyone building telecoms infrastructure is building it for all users whether they are businesses or consumers.’ For its part, an Ofcom spokesman was cited as saying of the challenge to its plans: ‘We will defend our decisions, which are designed to ensure that consumers and businesses benefit from competition and investment in the market for high-speed lines.’