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Openreach starts duct and pole sharing trials for broadband delivery

Openreach enlists five broadband services providers to take part in a trial of processes for sharing access to its duct and pole infrastructure

Openreach, BT’s arms-length network access division, has commenced trials of a simplified duct and pole sharing processes with a number of communications services providers (CSPs) to encourage investment in broadband services in parts of the UK that aren’t served by fibre networks.

If the trials are successful, they could see a number of fibre broadband networks being built across the country as more companies gain the ability to roll-out their own networks quickly and efficiently, without getting tied up in bureaucracy.

The opening up of the Openreach duct and pole infrastructure to rivals was a key condition laid down in Ofcom’s February 2016 market review. The review stopped short of forcibly separating Openreach from the wider BT group, but imposed a number of new conditions on it.

Openreach has technically offered access to its ducts and poles for a number of years, but has found little interest from rivals, although the rivals tend to hold the view that the process was made so complex that engaging was not worth their trouble. The new processes now on trial are intended to bridge this gulf in perception.

The tests will explore a number of enhancements to the current process. Key among these enhancements are new rules on faster surveying and building, allowing companies to inspect Openreach’s infrastructure and, if there is space, to install their own fibre immediately without additional permission.

CSPs will also be given the authority to clear any blocked ducts they may come across, again without needing permission from Openreach.

Finally, they will be allowed to install new distribution joints inside Openreach’s junction boxes, which is  supposed to make deployment quicker and easier.

Openreach said it was still working to create digital maps to chart the extent of its existing UK infrastructure, to support CSPs that want to take advantage of the liberalised access scheme.

“We hope these new, simpler processes – which have been designed and developed in partnership with the industry – will encourage more companies to invest, particularly in parts of the UK that aren’t already served by high-speed networks,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley.

“This is an important step which gives greater access to our network and encourages other companies to join Openreach in building better, broader and faster communications services for the whole UK.”

Participants welcome tests

Those CSPs taking part in the trial were quick to voice their approval. Andy Conibere, managing director of Callflow, said he had been accessing Openreach’s duct and pole infrastructure for five years. However, he said, the trials meant his firm could now build “significant” fibre networks quicker and cheaper.

“[This] can potentially make a massive difference to spreading fibre broadband to the most difficult to reach areas,” said Conibere.

Ben King, CEO at WarwickNet, added: “Having access to their ducts and poles has allowed us to deploy our own fibre networks across poorly connected business parks on a  much faster timescale, and has seen numerous businesses connected in a fraction of the time that it would have taken otherwise.”

Legal action on dark fibre

Meanwhile, fibre backhaul supplier CityFibre has launched legal action against telecoms regulator Ofcom over separate proposals governing CSP access to Openreach’s dark fibre infrastructure, claiming that it contradicted Ofcom’s own endorsement of competition in digital infrastructure.

In a submission to the High Court’s Competition Appeals Tribunal, CityFibre said by allowing CSPs to connect their own equipment to BT’s fibre backhaul at a controlled price, Ofcom damaged CityFibre’s investment in its wholly owned fibre infrastructure.

“As a major investor in the UK telecom infrastructure market, working to transform digital connectivity across the country, we need to ensure that CityFibre and other fibre optic infrastructure builders can invest against the background of a fair and balanced regulatory regime,” explained CityFibre director of strategy and public affairs Mark Collins.

“We believe Ofcom is implementing poor and inconsistent regulation. We have a duty to robustly contest their decisions and policies in the normal course of business – especially where they conflict with stimulating long-term investment in the critical digital infrastructure which the UK so badly needs.”

A BT spokesperson said: “Like other companies who have invested in their own networks, we continue to believe that regulated dark fibre is the wrong approach. We believe this is a flawed piece of regulation that will not lead to the new networks that Ofcom want to see in the future.”

An Ofcom spokesperson said the regulator would vigorously contest the case: “We will defend our decisions, which are designed to ensure that consumers and businesses benefit from competition and investment in the market for high-speed lines.”

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