Ofcom lays out fairer broadband plan to Openreach

Ashley Carr
April 22, 2017

The Office of Communications, commonly know as Ofcom, said the plan would make it easier for competitors to access BT's existing telegraph poles, ducts and underground tunnels that carry telecoms cables.

Ofcom has announced its grand plan for encouraging the deployment of full-fibre broadband (i.e. FTTP or "ultrafast") networks to the United Kingdom, and at the same time "reducing the country's reliance on Openreach", the infrastructure arm of BT that owns all of the ducts and poles used to deliver copper telephone wires to everyone in the UK.

"Ofcom wants to ensure all providers can lay fibre in BT's ducts as easily as BT itself", said an Ofcom statement.

In addition to this, companies will be allowed to install fibre for both businesses and homes, provided that the installation is predominantly used to deliver broadband for homes and small offices.

The regulator is also calling for Openreach to fix faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for access.

It also wants BT Openreach to continue to develop a "digital map" of its duct and pole network so competitors can plan new networks.

Competition policy director at Ofcom Yih-Choung Teh said the move will put other suppliers - such as Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin - on a "level playing field with BT" when it comes to supplying superfast broadband.

Ofcom said it expected to publish its final decisions in early 2018, with new rules taking effect on April 1 next year. We believe that an effective PIA remedy will reduce the absolute costs and time required for competing telecoms providers to build ultrafast networks at scale.

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United Kingdom regulator Ofcom is preparing to open up British Telecom's ducts and poles so that rival broadband suppliers can lay fiber cheaply.

According to Ofcom, the United Kingdom compares well with major European peers for the availability of broadband connections involving some form of fibre-optic cable, such as fibre running to the street cabinet. While it can take days to build 200 meter of duct using traditional construction methods, fibre cables could be installed in the same length of existing duct in a matter of hours.

Openreach's sole focus is to manage the fibre and copper broadband infrastructure that all providers, including BT Retail, use to deliver services.

Since Ofcom outlined initial plans in December, Openreach has made the process for accessing its ducts and poles more efficient, following a trial previous year with five other telecoms companies.

Openreach, which is being carved out of BT, may also be forced to provide leased lines to competitors who lack the capital to roll out their own fully independent infrastructure.

Duct and Pole Access to the many millions of premises served by the Openreach local loop is once more in the spotlight as Ofcom publishes its latest set of detail on the next version of PIA. This can help strengthen the business case for new investment.

However, BT's broadband fibre networks are now deployed by Openreach, and so our focus is on ensuring Openreach does not have an unfair advantage over competing network builders.

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