UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has set out detailed plans for improving access to Openreach’s infrastructure with a view to ‘making it cheaper and easier for competing providers to connect their own fibre broadband directly to homes and offices.’ Saying that the proposed measures are designed to spur investment in the next generation of ultrafast internet connections, the regulator has also claimed they will help reduce the country’s historical reliance on Openreach, the network business within BT Group.
Ofcom aims to make it quicker and easier for BT’s competitors to build their own fibre networks using Openreach’s existing telegraph poles and ducts. Its main proposals include a call for access on fair terms: the regulator has argued that providers should be able to lay fibre using BT’s ducts and poles as easily as the fixed line incumbent, with the cost to BT for providing this access to be spread across all users. In addition, Ofcom has said that Openreach must repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them, while it must also continue to develop a ‘digital map’ of its duct and pole network so competitors can plan new networks. BT, meanwhile, should ensure capacity is available on its telegraph poles for additional fibre cables that connect buildings to a competitor’s network, according to the regulator.
The new proposals form part of Ofcom’s Wholesale Local Access Market Review for the period from April 2018 to March 2021. The consultation on the matter closes on 15 June 2017, with the regulator saying it expects to publish its final decisions early next year, with new rules taking effect on 1 April 2018. Ofcom has also said it is considering changes to Openreach’s rental charges for accessing its duct network, and here, it expects to publish specific proposals ‘in the summer’.
Commenting on the plans to improve access to Openreach’s infrastructure, Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Competition Policy Director, 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.’