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Ofcom reveals duct and pole sharing proposals for fibre broadband

Regulator has made a number of suggestions to make it easier for broadband providers to get access to BT Openreach’s ducts and poles

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has suggested a number of tweaks to its proposals to enable communications services providers (CSPs) to leverage duct and pole infrastructure belonging to BT Openreach to build their own ultrafast broadband networks.

As previously reported, the regulator would like to make it quicker and easier for rival CSPs to build their own fibre networks direct to homes and businesses using existing poles and ducts owned by BT, saving them time and money. This was a key ambition set out in its market review earlier in 2016.

At the same time, Ofcom has been conscious of the need to properly incentivise BT to open up infrastructure it has already invested in to its retail broadband competitors. This is important because previous attempts to open up its infrastructure in this way have not been fruitful.

Ofcom said its proposals would help CSPs offer more of an alternative to the copper-based technologies still largely favoured by BT. By enabling more network competition, they would help spur further investment in fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband, including from BT, it added.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom competition policy director, said: “Fibre is the future for broadband, and Ofcom is helping to deliver that through competition between networks.

“Today we are explaining how access to BT’s tunnels and poles could be improved, allowing other providers to connect ultrafast, fibre broadband directly to UK homes and offices. Our plans will give providers increased confidence to invest in their own full-fibre networks at reduced cost.”

For BT, Ofcom is proposing changes that mean the incumbent would be able to recover the costs of providing third-party access in the same way as it recovers costs for its own deployment, by spreading them across all services making use of the infrastructure, for example.

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It also hopes to get BT to streamline the process of conducting site surveys for competitors and bring them in line with Openreach’s own survey requirements. This may include specific service-level agreements (SLAs) and guarantees if a CSP is using Openreach to perform engineering work, or even allowing competitors to carry out engineering work themselves.

For properties that currently connect to the network over a copper drop wire to a telegraph pole, Ofcom wants to require Openreach to upgrade this to a fibre drop wire at the request of any other CSP – although it could then charge the CSP for using it. This is because CSPs that want to roll out FTTP can face problems, such as space and load constraints on the poles, which are hard to resolve – an issue that does not affect BT to the same extent.

It also hopes to push through changes to Openreach’s rental charges for accessing its infrastructure. These charges are linked to Openreach’s costs right now, but the regulator will consider an explicit cap on pricing to give CSPs more planning certainty.

The regulator welcomed BT’s efforts to develop an online database that shows the location and capacity of its ducts and poles, something it expects to be available by mid-2017, and praised the incumbent for having already started trialling new processes with other CSPs, but reiterated that more still needed to be done to improve network competition in support of FTTP broadband.

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