British telecoms regulator Ofcom has confirmed its final decisions following a review of both the physical infrastructure market (access to Openreach’s ducts and poles) and connections that are used by business broadband networks. As such, the watchdog has published a statement setting out how it intends to regulate these areas for the period to April 2021, noting that, having submitted a draft of its decisions to the EC for consultation last month, the European body had made comments on this but suggested ‘no material changes’.
As a result of Ofcom’s review of the physical infrastructure market, the watchdog has confirmed that companies laying fibre cables for broadband and mobile networks will benefit from greater access to Openreach’s existing infrastructure of telegraph poles and underground tunnels. While Openreach – BT’s network unit – is 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 only been available to companies focusing on residential and small business customers. Under the new regulatory decision firms serving large businesses, as well as companies laying high speed lines that support mobile and broadband networks, will have access to the Openreach infrastructure.
Meanwhile, on the back of Ofcom’s review of leased lines, the regulator has said that in areas of the country where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased line networks it will continue to regulate what it can charge providers to use these services, with a view to ‘keeping prices flat’. Furthermore, strict requirements will also be imposed on Openreach for repairs and installations, it said. In the ‘many’ areas where there are no rival networks present at Openreach’s exchanges, Ofcom has determined that the operator will be required to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, at a price that reflects its costs. Introducing dark fibre in only these areas will, Ofcom claims, ‘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’.
Looking to the future, Ofcom has also confirmed that from 2021 it plans to regulate business and residential markets together, so that companies investing in full fibre can offer a range of services over a common underlying network. To that end, the regulator has said that in December 2019 it plans to begin consulting on detailed proposals for this single wholesale fixed telecoms market review for the period to 2026.