British telecoms regulator Ofcom has unveiled proposals seeking to enable companies to build ultrafast, ‘full-fibre’ broadband networks more cheaply and easily, using infrastructure owned by BT. Ofcom noted that it is keen to ensure all providers can lay fibre in BT’s ducts as easily as the fixed line incumbent itself. As such, the regulator has called for changes which would mean BT recovering the costs of providing third-party access in the same way it recovers such costs for its own deployments – for example, by spreading them across all services that make use of the duct. Ofcom is also considering changes to rental charges levied by BT’s network unit Openreach for accessing its duct network. With these rental charges currently linked to Openreach’s costs, it has been suggested that an explicit cap on prices could provide greater planning certainty for providers in future. Meanwhile, Ofcom has also set out reforms which would require BT to streamline the process of conducting site surveys for its competitors, while a requirement for service-level agreements and guarantees is also being considered.
With the final connection between around half of UK homes and the network being a ‘drop wire’ from a nearby telegraph pole, Ofcom notes that companies wishing to connect fibre directly to premises can face problems such as space and load constraints on BT’s poles. By contrast, it has been claimed that these issues do not affect BT to the same extent, with the telco said to be able to connect premises simply by replacing its existing copper drop wire with fibre. As a result, Ofcom is consulting on whether to require Openreach to upgrade its drop wires with fibre at the request of any telecoms provider who is offering full-fibre broadband to a customer.