Barely a fortnight after bringing its full-fibre broadband network to towns and cities across the south of England that had been underserved by gigabit connectivity, CityFibre has announced Wokingham as the next location for its network that will now be lit up in Ipswich. But at the same time, it has submitted a Competition Act complaint to the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and comms regulator Ofcom about what it says is an exclusionary strategy by BT Openreach to suppress competition.
The complaint details how BT Openreach is, in CityFibre’s opinion, undertaking an aggressive strategy to foreclose infrastructure competition in the UK fibre broadband market. It claims that this strategy exploits the dependency of its wholesale internet service provider customers (ISPs), deterring them from placing orders with alternative fibre providers, even though these providers offer faster, more reliable and cheaper wholesale services.
The complaint is being made under the UK’s Competition Act 1998, which was designed to prevent abusive monopolistic behaviour. BT Openreach’s strategy, set out in the document sent to the CMA, risks causing irreversible harm to network competition in the UK, said CityFibre.
“We welcome fair competition, but BT Openreach’s behaviour is straight out of the playbook of a dominant operator using its market power and advantages to maintain its dominance,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch. “If left unchecked, BT Openreach will strangle competition and threaten the pace of the UK’s full-fibre roll-out – all at the same time as BT Consumer is imposing broadband price rises on millions of households far above the rate of inflation.
“Were this to happen, it would also send a clear signal to investors that this country is not a place where they can safely invest the billions of pounds needed to improve UK infrastructure.”
However, the CityFibre investors will now see £15m of capital being spent in the Berkshire town of Wokingham, which will be the next location in line for a multimillion-pound investment in full-fibre infrastructure. The new full-fibre network is designed to bring fast and reliable internet services within reach of almost every home and business in the area.
The works are a continuation and further investment of the wider £58m network build which is currently ongoing in Reading and parts of Wokingham. Construction work on the full-fibre network in Wokingham has just begun in the Norreys district.
Meanwhile, on the lower East Anglian coast, CityFibre has made thousands of homes in the Gainsborough, Priory Heath, Holywells and Alexandra areas of Ipswich “ready for service”, which means residents can choose to connect to full fibre-enabled broadband services when they go live in their area.
In Ipswich, customers can sign up to internet services from CityFibre’s UK launch partner, Vodafone, on selected Vodafone Pro Broadband plans, as well as TalkTalk, Air Broadband, Giganet, Zen, Zybre, Yayzi, No One, IDNET, A&A, Octaplus and LINK.
The roll-out is now progressing into new areas, with construction planned in St Johns and Bixley. Once the town-wide roll-out reaches completion in 2024, almost every home and business locally will have access to full-fibre services from a range of internet service providers.
Construction is being delivered by VolkerSmart Technologies on behalf of CityFibre. The team is using a range of construction methods while working in close partnership with Suffolk County Council, Ipswich Borough Council and local communities.
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