UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has issued proposals to give greater access to national wholesale broadband network provider Openreach’s underground ducts and telegraph poles for companies laying high speed fibre cables used by large businesses, mobile operators and broadband providers. The announcement follows a disclosure in July setting out long-term plans to support investment in fibre networks, including introducing unrestricted access to Openreach’s ducts and poles in 2019. Under Ofcom rules, Openreach – which is owned by BT Group but independently governed – is required to let competing providers use its poles and ducts to lay their own fibre cables, which can cut the upfront cost of building full-fibre networks by around half, though this obligation is currently restricted to companies offering primarily residential broadband services. Ofcom is consulting on proposals to expand this access to companies offering any type of telecoms services including high speed lines for large businesses, networks carrying data for mobile operators and high capacity lines supporting broadband services. The watchdog intends to implement unrestricted duct access from spring 2019.
The news follows BT Group’s formal release on 31 October 2018 from a set of regulations (‘Undertakings’) imposed in 2005, with the effect that Openreach is now regarded as a ‘legally separate’ company from its parent and subject to a different set of regulations from BT. The ending of the legacy regulation was granted following the transfer of 31,000 employees from BT to Openreach in early October 2018 – which was the last primary obstacle to full implementation of Ofcom’s ‘legal separation’ orders issued to BT/Openreach in 2016.
Ofcom’s latest duct and pole access plans were published on 2 November 2018 alongside a consultation on Ofcom’s Business Connectivity Market Review, which looks at competition for dedicated, high speed leased lines (see link below for further details). Both consultations will close on 18 January 2019, and Ofcom intends to publish final conclusions in spring 2019.