Ofcom enables £multi-billion refunding of BT to finance full-fibre roll out.

The Ofcom decisions on the regulation of wholesale markets will take time to digest but BBC and others quote BT and Openreach as saying this will enable them to build like fury . First, however, BT has to fund its plans and it has yet to organise the rights issue and other funding for the investment plans outlined when it merged with EE, let alone those since.

So far (mid-day on the 18th) the stock market reaction has been muted.

Over the past couple of years the scale of the challenge/opportunity facing BT has become apparent. It has been losing market share in its most profitable business areas as more of the London boroughs follow the lead of Westminster, Tower Hamlets and Southwark in working with its competitors to offer full fibre to local businesses and social housing. It has similarly been losing share wherever a commercial centre or cluster of business parks provides an attractive opportunity to its investors or a local authority has spotted the opportunity to address the digital divide without putting up funds it does not have.

The City of Westminster created Wired Westminster in 2015 to bring together property owners and potential providers.  54% of properties (latest Think Broadband figures) now have access to full fibre in the UK’s most competitive market [measured by number of providers offering inter-operable networks to international standards]. Shortly afterwards Tower Hamlets opened its social housing to BT’s competitors. It has achieved 58%. Southwark followed and has now achieved 51.6%.  Others did not. Haringey, for example, has under 4% – less than Ludlow (6.6%) or South Holland and the Deepings (6.5%). The other London Boroughs are now beginning to follow suite. Earlier this week the Lambeth Digital Strategy was agreed by the council. It is underpinned by wayleave agreements with some of BT’s competitors.

Lambeth currently has 14.0 access (current Think Broadband table as opposed to the earlier data quoted in the strategy). But this ranges from 41.3% in Battersea down to 8.3% in Streatham and 5.6% in Dulwich and West Norwood (which straddles the boundary with Southwark). The main exchange in Dulwich and West Norwood has been “fibre enabled” for some years but BT still does not offer fibre connectivity to local businesses or residents. Hence the importance of Lambeth arrangements to open up wayleaves to Community Fibre,  G.Network and their investors.  BT and Virgin have to “up their game” rapidly or lose market share to those who will install the full fibre to enable economic recovery and bridge the digital divide that has opened up over the past year.

Hopefully the CMA will not get in the way of Virgin’s plans to co-operate with O2 on its response to the challenge of providing utility strength converged communications access for the 21st century. The Ofcom decision today appears to open the way for BT to similarly complete the convergence begun with the EE merger.

But first it has to raise the money.

Until then, those waiting for full fibre and 5G must rely more on the investments being made by its competitors thant those which BT can afford from its current cash flows plus BDUK subsidies.


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