Hot on the heels of the release of the government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has outlined a package of proposals to support long-term investment in full-fibre networks. The watchdog’s measures focus on four key proposals, the chief of which is a confirmation that Ofcom will now consider the regulation of the residential and business markets together. It said it had decided to do so, as the companies investing in the rollout full fibre increasingly seeking to offer a range of services over a common underlying network, serving both consumers and businesses. Meanwhile, Ofcom has said it intends to take a ‘flexible’ approach to regulation, reflecting how many different competing fibre companies are present in a particular geographic area. It has also revealed it plans to extend the duration of regulation from three to five years, or more, arguing that doing so will help provide longer-term certainty to investors.
Rounding out the key proposals, Ofcom has said it will consult on plans to extend access to Openreach’s ducts and poles to companies offering high speed connections for large businesses, as well as networks carrying data for mobile operators. At present, Openreach is only required to allow companies that offer mainly residential and small business services to use its telegraphy poles and underground ducts to lay their own fibre cables, and the regulator has suggested extending the scope of the current regulation could give companies ‘extra flexibility and more opportunities to make a return on their investments’.
In terms of its next steps, Ofcom has said it plans to consult on unrestricted access to Openreach’s ducts and poles this autumn, with the aim of having any new measures in place from the start of 2020. Meanwhile, it will also consult on how it should define geographic areas as either competitive, potentially competitive or non-competitive this autumn, and by April 2021 aims to have regulation in place, covering wholesale access to broadband networks, that varies by geographic area. This new regulation, it noted, will replace its Business Connectivity Market Review and our Wholesale Local Access Review, and will be in place for at least five years. A consultation on proposals ahead of this new regulation will be undertaken during 2019 and 2020.