Britain’s telecoms regulator Ofcom has said that more premises will benefit from ultrafast internet speeds, after it published draft decision which it claims will halve the upfront cost of building ‘full-fibre’ broadband networks. With the watchdog noting that pure fibre connectivity is currently available to just 3% of the UK’s homes and businesses, it has proposed a raft of measures to boost investment in such networks, on the back of recent commitments by a number of providers that it says could see up to six million premises covered by full fibre by 2020.
Under the proposals, Ofcom says that fixed line incumbent BT will be required to grant access to its telegraph poles and underground tunnels to all alternative providers, arguing this will make it quicker and easier for such operators to build their own full-fibre networks. This measure, which is already being used by providers such as Virgin Media and CityFibre, will ‘fundamentally change the business case for building new networks’, and could reportedly cut the upfront costs of laying fibre cables by around 50% – from GBP500 (USD698) per home, to GBP250. BT’s network division Openreach, meanwhile, will have to repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them, while also ensuring there is space on its telegraph poles for extra fibre cables connecting homes to a competitor’s network. Openreach will also be required to release a ‘digital map’ of its duct and pole network, so competitors can plan where to lay fibre.
In order to encourage investment, Ofcom has claimed its decision not to regulate the prices of Openreach’s fastest wholesale superfast broadband products, including its new full-fibre services, will support the incentives for operators to build full-fibre networks. It notes, however, that to prevent BT from stifling new investment by rivals, the incumbent will not be allowed to make targeted wholesale price reductions in areas where rivals are starting to build new networks. At the same time, Ofcom said it remains keen to protect against high prices, particularly in ‘places that are unlikely to benefit from competitive investment, such as rural areas’. To achieve this aim, it has confirmed it will reduce the wholesale price that Openreach can charge for its basic superfast broadband service (which offers a downlink speed of 40Mbps and uplink of 10Mbps). Having initially proposed in March 2017 that it would set the monthly charge for this service at GBP11.23 by 2021, Ofcom has confirmed that following a consultation it is adjusting the figure to GBP11.92.
Ofcom is also seeking to improve the process of repairs and installations, to which end it has said that Openreach will be required to: complete at least 88% of fault repairs within one or two working days of being notified; complete at least 97% of repairs within seven working days; provide an appointment for 90% of new line installations within ten working days of being notified; and install 95% of connections on the date agreed between Openreach and the telecoms provider. These new requirements must be met by 2020/21, the regulator has said.
Ofcom’s draft measures have been submitted to the European Commission for comment, it has confirmed, and it expects to publish a final statement regarding the matter next month.