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Ofcom Details Plan To Open Up BT Openreach Ducts & Poles

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Regulator wants rivals to have fair access to BT’s underground pipes and telegraph poles

 Ofcom had outlined its plans to open up the underground ducts and telegraph poles of BT to rival service providers.

It comes Ofcom had opened its initial consultation in December last year looking at ways to make it easier for competitors to access BT’s infrastructure.

But now it has added flesh to the bones, and outlined the measures it wants to see implemented to encourage rival service providers to install full fibre networks in the UK.

fibreleadCostly Business

Installing fibre networks is an expensive process, and the most costly element has always been digging up the ground to install ducting (to carry the cables) or the cost of installing telegraph poles, which in recent years fibre cables have started to utilise.

Ofcom recognised the importance of ducting early on in the rollout of fibre in the UK, and in 2010 the regulator forced BT to open up its ducting so that rival ISPs could lay their own fibre connections.

However some rivals long argued that BT’s charges for access to its ducts were too high.

Ofcom consultation into the matter came about due its concerns that the UK is lagging behind others in the deployment of a full fibre network (i.e. FTTP or fibre to the premise).

Open Ducts

It has now set out detailed plans for improving access to Openreach’s infrastructure, to make it cheaper and easier for competing providers to connect their own fibre broadband directly to homes and offices.

To this end it proposes the following. It wants access to BT’s ducts on fair terms.

“Providers should be able to lay fibre using BT’s ducts and poles as easily as BT itself,” said Ofcom, “and the cost to BT for providing this access should be spread across all users.”

Another problem for rival ISPs has been also that either the underground duct has been compromised, (i.e. from tree roots etc) which requires expensive digging to repair the duct.

Another issue has been that the underground ducts or telegraph poles are too crowded with other cabling.

Ofcom therefore wants the network to be ‘ready for use’. “Openreach must repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them,” it said.

And in an effort to drive FTTP, it wants action on the final connection into the home. “BT should ensure capacity is available on its telegraph poles for additional fibre cables that connect buildings to a competitor’s network,” said the regulator.

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

BT Cumbria Fell End fibre broadband

Rental Charges Review

“People increasingly need fast, reliable broadband. We’ll make it easier for companies to offer their own full-fibre broadband more cheaply by accessing Openreach’s tunnels and telegraph poles,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Competition Policy Director.

“This will put other providers on a level playing field with BT, so they have the confidence to invest in their own full-fibre networks,” said Yih-Choung Teh.

Ofcom said that these proposals will be examined until the consultation closes on 15 June. The watchdog intends to publish its final decisions in early 2018.

And the regulator warned BT that it is also considering changes to Openreach’s rental charges for accessing its duct network, and will publish its take on that in the summer.

Expert Take

Meanwhile Ofcom’s proposals regarding BT’s ducts have been welcomed by least one industry observer.

“While it is unlikely that BT’s primary competitors will want to use Openreach’s poles and ducts to launch their own nationwide networks – the cost of such an undertaking would be gargantuan – improved access does invite greater competition from smaller providers whose goal it is to serve a specific region or locale,” said Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at broadband advice website Cable.co.uk.

“Smaller local providers tend to provide a better service to customers due both to the number of, and proximity to, their customers,” he added.

“Whichever way you look at it Ofcom’s move today will further stoke the fires of competition, which in turn will lead to more choice, cheaper broadband deals, and better customer service,” said Howdle.

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