Ofcom gets go-ahead for new Openreach access model

Following referral to the European Commission, Ofcom is pressing ahead with a new regulatory model governing more open access to Openreach’s ducts, poles and dark fibre

The European Commission (EC) has given Ofcom the green light to move ahead with the imposition of new regulations governing Openreach’s national broadband network, widening the scope of access to the provider’s ducts, poles, and dark fibre infrastructure.

Having initially published its draft decisions in May 2019, the regulator has made no material changes to its proposals following EC feedback.

The proposals will extend access to the Openreach duct and pole network to communications service providers (CSPs) working on behalf of large businesses, and those building their own 5G or broadband networks.

Up to now, the duct and pole access measure had covered only those CSPs serving residential and small business broadband customers.

The regulator will also press ahead with new dark fibre rules, allowing CSPs to light up Openreach fibre with their own equipment in areas where it believes network competition is unlikely to emerge for connections, even with duct and pole access. As per the previously announced plans, Openreach will be able to set a price for this that fairly reflects its own costs.

It will also continue to regulate leased line provision in areas of the UK where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased line networks, with measures to keep prices flat and stricter requirements on Openreach for repairs and installations.

In all cases, Ofcom’s rationale is to make it more commercially attractive for CSPs to invest in their own broadband and mobile networks, improving competition, lowering prices, and rolling out services faster, as Ofcom Competition Group director, Jonathan Oxley, explained in May.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Also speaking in May, an Openreach spokesperson said that the company shared Ofcom’s desire to improve service standards, and had already started work on easing access to ducts and poles ahead of schedule.

Openreach also officially welcomed “greater clarity” around dark fibre. However, its leadership has previously expressed some doubt over whether or not further liberalisation of the rules governing access to dark fibre infrastructure is the most appropriate measure under current conditions.

In an exclusive interview with Computer Weekly, published in March 2019, the organisation’s chairman Mike McTighe said that dark fibre would “totally undermine the Openreach business model if it was to be a pervasive product”.

The main objection to dark fibre inside Openreach rests, to some extent, on its inability to assure dark fibre as a product, demonstrate if it is working properly or not, or to know what it’s being used for. 

To this end, in 2017, it launched a virtual dark fibre – or “grey fibre” – product, OSA Filter Connect, which lets CSPs hook their own active equipment to lit fibre, meaning it can guarantee service levels, and monitor and manage it.

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