British telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced draft decisions under which it claims that companies laying high speed fibre cables for broadband and mobile networks will benefit from greater access to Openreach’s telegraph poles and underground tunnels.
With BT subsidiary Openreach already required to let rival companies use its telegraph poles and underground ‘ducts’ to lay their own fibre networks under rules set by Ofcom last year, until now such access has been limited to companies focusing on residential and small-business customers. As per the regulator’s latest plans, however, access will be extended to firms serving larger business customers, as well as those looking to roll out lines to support mobile and broadband networks.
In addition, Ofcom has also confirmed that it is refreshing its regulation of leased lines; under the draft decision, the regulator said that in areas of the country where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased-line networks, it will continue to regulate what that company can charge providers to use these services, ‘keeping prices flat’. Further, it will also impose strict requirements on Openreach for repairs and installations. Meanwhile, in areas where there are no rival networks present at BT’s exchanges, Openreach will be required to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, at ‘a price that reflects its costs’. According to Ofcom, introducing dark fibre in only these areas will significantly reduce the cost for mobile and broadband operators to connect their networks, without undermining their incentives to lay new, competing fibre cables where it is economic to do so. By comparison, where the regulator sees there being stronger network competition, or prospective competition, it has confirmed that regulation will be lighter than existing rules, to allow competition to flourish.
Ofcom confirmed that the new regulations will cover the period from its final decisions, until April 2021, with the draft decisions having now been submitted to the European Commission for comment, after which it plans to publish a final statement next month. In terms of specific timelines, the regulator noted that new, unrestricted duct and pole access is expected to be implemented one month after this final statement, while dark fibre access will be required to be provided from six weeks after its final statement.
Commenting on the draft decisions, Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom’s Competition Group Director, said: ‘Our measures are designed to support the UK’s digital future by providing investment certainty for continued competitive investment in fibre and 5G networks across the country.’