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Ofcom has another go at liberalising duct and pole access

Telecoms regulator is making a new attempt to establish better access to BT’s duct and pole infrastructure for communication services providers

Ofcom has returned to the thorny issue of duct and pole access for full-fibre broadband network builders and other communication services providers (CSPs), proposing a series of measures that would make it easier and cheaper for them to take advantage of Openreach’s national duct and pole network to supply their own fibre services.

The latest consultation, which will run until 18 January 2019, centres on a number of proposals that would allow all telecoms providers access to Openreach’s ducts and poles going forward.

“Our proposals intend to promote telecoms network competition by making it cheaper and easier to build new high-capacity business and residential networks, and hence further the interests of residential and business customers,” said Ofcom in the consultation preamble.

In its 2018 Wholesale Local Access market review, the regulator put in place a number of measures to ensure Openreach gave other companies access to its network, which, in theory, could halve the upfront cost of building a full-fibre network.

However, because these measures were specifically designed to remedy competition problems in the wholesale local access market, they were only available to companies primarily deploying broadband and fixed telephony networks, which meant those that wanted to take advantage of them would have to demonstrate they had a firm intention to deploy broadband – a hurdle not faced by Openreach itself.

Because of this, Ofcom now believes that giving all companies unrestricted access to the Openreach duct-and-pole network will allow competition to “emerge more strongly” in all telecoms services, both residential and business, because it will give providers more flexibility to offer new types of network, such as fixed wireless access (FWA) based on 5G technology.

If its proposals are adopted, Openreach will be required to: provide network access on reasonable request, which means CSPs will be able to request new types of services; adopt a clear and public process through which such requests are considered; offer all CSPs the same terms and conditions (Ts&Cs) and apply the same processes; publish the Ts&Cs under which any network access services using its ducts and poles is provided; and notify changes to any Ts&Cs and technical information.

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The latest consultation serves in part as a lead-in to a new, holistic approach that the regulator is proposing to take to residential and business telecoms markets and physical network infrastructure. Implementing unrestricted access to ducts and poles will form part of this – but, over the coming months, the regulator will set out a number of other proposals it plans to make.

In areas that are effectively competitive, based on the roll-out of other full-fibre networks such as CityFibre’s, the regulator said that in the future, Openreach “will no longer be required to provide wholesale access to its services”.

In areas where competitive full-fibre networks are being, or are likely to be, built, it will seek to impose remedies to incentivise investment while ensuring that users are protected until network competition becomes effective.

Finally, in areas where it believes competitive full-fibre networks will not be built, it will try to impose remedies that protect users while also ensuring that Openreach is incentivised and supported in its investment.

Ofcom will set out in more detail the approaches that will best achieve these objectives in spring 2019, and by next autumn, it hopes to draw together these threads for a wider consultation on regulation that will come into force in 2021.

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