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Ofcom makes new proposals to liberalise access Openreach’s ducts and poles

The telecoms regulator is proposing new regulations on accessing Openreach’s infrastructure that it hopes will incentives others to roll out ultrafast networks quicker

A wider range of communications services providers (CSPs) and network builders are to get access to Openreach’s national network of ducts and poles under a draft decision announced 24 May by telecoms regulator Ofcom.

Up to now, the ability to use Openreach’s ducts and poles has been restricted to companies focusing on residential and small-business broadband services – the likes of CityFibre and Virgin Media.

However, under the new proposals, this right will be extended to providers that service medium-sized businesses and large enterprises, and companies building backhaul networks to support 5G mobile and broadband networks.

By extending access to business networks and allowing companies to use Openreach’s infrastructure for all types of telecoms services, Ofcom believes the commercial and business cases for investment in ultrafast communications networks (+300Mbps by Ofcom’s definition) will become far more attractive.

“The amount of internet data used by people in the UK is expanding by around half every year. So, we’ll need faster, more reliable connections for our homes, offices and mobile networks,” said Ofcom Competition Group director, Jonathan Oxley.

“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.”

The regulator has also proposed changes to how dark fibre is regulated in areas where there are no rivals present in BT’s exchanges – and even with duct and pole access, competition is still unlikely to emerge. Here, Openreach would be required to give competitors physical access to its own fibre cables, albeit at a price that fairly reflects its own costs.

Ofcom said that introducing dark fibre would slash the costs for mobile and broadband operators to connect their networks without undermining their incentive to lay their own fibre where it makes economic sense.

The draft decision also refreshes how Ofcom regulates leased lines, the high-speed data connections used by larger businesses. Going forward, in parts of the UK where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased line networks, the regulator hopes to continue to regulate what it may charge providers to use these services to keep prices flat. It also plans to impose stricter requirements on Openreach for repairs and installations.

An Openreach spokesperson said: “Last year we delivered our best ever service performance, but we want to keep improving and we share Ofcom’s desire to improve service across the industry.

“Our ducts and poles have been open to other companies since 2011, and we recognise that unrestricted access is a natural next step, so we volunteered to get on with that, ahead of Ofcom’s original schedule.

“We welcome the greater clarity around dark fibre and the timeframe needed to deliver a fully functional product to market. We’ll consider the range of proposals carefully, and we’ll continue to work with Ofcom on developing an environment that encourages greater investment.”

The draft decisions follow Ofcom’s review of the physical infrastructure and business connectivity markets, and will cover the period from its final decisions until April 2021. In line with current rules, the decision has been submitted to the European Commission for comment, and a final statement will be issued in June 2019.

Ofcom also plans to begin a new consultation in December on more detailed proposals for one, holistic residential and business market review, which will cover the period through to 2026.

Read more about broadband

  • The Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme will run for two years, trialling a new model for full-fibre broadband delivery – meanwhile, BDUK is getting a new name.
  • Regulator Ofcom is giving broadband, phone and pay-TV service providers nine months to ready their systems and processes for the emergence of new rules, designed to make it easier for consumers to switch providers.
  • Openreach will ramp up the pace of its full-fibre network build over the next six years, with ambitious targets to bring ultrafast broadband within reach of 15 million homes by the middle of the 2020s.

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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