Openreach asks comms providers how to improve broadband access

Openreach is to consult with its communication services provider customers on exploring the case for fibre-to-the-premises broadband and universal coverage

Openreach is to meet with its communications services provider (CSP) customers to help build the business case for large-scale investment in ultrafast fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband networks as pressure mounts on the BT-backed organisation to deliver future-proofed network infrastructure.

The organisation, which was created in 2006 to give CSPs “equality of access” to BT’s network, has historically shied away from FTTP, preferring instead to protect and sweat its parent’s copper network assets.

This has been to the detriment of consumers and small business owners across the UK, many of whom still languish on connections that cannot possibly meet the need for internet access and services that modern life now demands.

But with the government now banging the drum for what it terms “full fibre” broadband, and more consumers coming to an understanding of what FTTP broadband can deliver thanks to the work of network builders such as CityFibre, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic, Openreach has begun a long-awaited pivot towards FTTP.

The consultation will seek input on two major policy issues, building an investment case for FTTP and addressing the needs of the digitally excluded who can only receive connections of under 10Mbps.

Openreach counts just under 580 CSPs running consumer and business services over its national network, so is counting on such organisations to have their say.

“We are committed to continuing our investment in the infrastructure Britain needs to support our thriving digital economy,” said Openreach chief executive Clive Selley.

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“We want to work closely with CSPs to explore how we do that. With the right conditions we could make full fibre connections available to as many as 10 million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s, but we need to understand if there’s sufficient demand to justify the roll-out, and support – across industry, Ofcom and government – for the enablers needed to build a viable business case.”

Among other things, the consultation will explore demand for FTTP, the benefits and costs of a large-scale deployment, and what would be needed to support investment.

For those who cannot hope to be among the 10 million to receive FTTP in the next decade, the consultation will also explore the next steps for long reach very-high bit rate digital subscriber line (VDSL) technology, which improves broadband speeds over longer copper lines connected to fibre backhaul, and could help meet the obligations set out in the Digital Economy Act to give everybody in the UK the legal right to request and receive a 10Mbps broadband connection.

Openreach’s gesture dismissed

CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch poured scorn on Openreach’s gesture and said it was laughable that it was still claiming to be the UK’s so-called digital champion when “it is responsible for the UK being stuck in the digital doldrums”.

“We have been in consultation with the service provider community for over three years. It was CityFibre, alongside Sky and TalkTalk, that set out to prove the viability of FTTP with a trial in York, demonstrating over 27% of homes taking a next generation full fibre service in just over a year,” he said.

“It is now abundantly clear that infrastructure competition, supported by targeted regulation and government support, is the only mechanism that will guarantee the innovation and investment needed to catch up and compete with other countries,” said Mesch.

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