Ofcom Details How Third Parties Could Share BT Openreach Ducts And Poles

The regulator wants to make it easier for competitors to access BT’s infrastructure in order to boost investment in all-fibre broadband networks

Ofcom has proposed measures intended to make it easier for competitors to access BT’s network infrastructure and encourage investment in fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband across the UK, saying it would begin a consultation on the ideas.

BT’s plans mostly involve continuing to use its existing network of copper wires, for instance to provide the final link between a fibre network and a customer’s premises, but Ofcom said it wants competitors to invest in networks that provide full-fibre access direct to premises.



Easier access

“Ofcom believes network competition is the most effective spur for continued investment in high quality, fibre networks,” the regulator stated.

Networks that connect to premises using coaxial cable, such as those used by Virgin Media, are different from fibre-optic links, but Ofcom includes them when referring to “fibre networks” because they provide high-speed access and don’t rely on BT.

The new consultation centres upon plans for making it easier for competitors, who include Sky, Vodafone, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, to access the telegraph poles and ducts maintained by BT’s Openreach infrastructure arm.

The changes are intended to make access by competitors comparable to that by BT itself, Ofcom said.

“This would give BT’s competitors the flexibility to innovate as technology evolves, and respond to changes in their customers’ needs,” the regulator stated.

Changes to pricing, site surveys

One change could allow BT to recover its costs for providing third-party access, such as repairing ducts, in a way similar to what it can do for its own deployments, for instance by spreading costs across all the services that use the duct.

Another proposal could place an explicit cap on Openreach’s rental charges, instead of linking them to the company’s own costs, in order to make it easier for competitors to plan their costs.

Proposed reforms would require BT to streamline the site survey process for competitors to make them comparable to Openreach’s own survey requirements, instead of being “unnecessarily onerous” as they are now.

Other measures would bring in service-level agreements and guarantees for engineering work and could require Openreach to upgrade last-mile connections from copper to fibre at the request of any telecoms provider offering full-fibre broadband to customers.

Infrastructure maps

The regulator said it supports a current BT project to deliver detailed duct and pole data to competitors by summer 2017 and said more needs to be done on rolling out simpler processes for sharing its network.

Along with its infrastructure access proposals Ofcom is looking to enforce Openreach’s legal split from BT.

The regulator said earlier this year a “good long-term outcome” would be full competition between three or more fibre networks for 40 percent of premises and coverage beyond those areas by two providers.

But a BT-backed study in October found it was “highly unlikely” a third fibre network could compete with Openreach and Virgin Media.

BT’s report argued a new entrant would only find it economically feasible to compete for at most 25 percent of the market, or 2 million premises, with a “more realistic” outcome being 20 percent share.

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