Ofcom To Give Fibre Rivals Greater Access To BT’s Poles And Ducts

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Greater access to Openreach infrastructure planned by Ofcom as it seeks to drive fibre investment

Ofcom has announced new rules to provide greater access to the telegraph poles and underground pipes (ducts) belonging to Openreach.

The idea is make it more attractive to companies to install fibre networks in the UK using existing pathways to local communities, homes, and offices.

Fibre continues to be heavily promoted in the UK as the best connectivity option going forward . In July 2018 for example the British government revealed its plan to ensure that the UK would enjoy “full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033.”

Fibre, network, broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012

Greater access

To help make this happen Ofcom has today revealed its draft decisions about providing greater access to Openreach poles and ducts.

In the past Openreach was obliged to provide rivals with access to its poles and ducts to lay their own fibre networks.

But uptake was slow, with rivals accusing the BT firm of charging too high fees to access its infrastructure.

To resolve this Ofcom published new rules last year that lowered the costs involved, and Openreach was obliged to repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them.

Essentially, Openreach had to ensure there is space on its telegraph poles for extra fibre cables, and it had to release a ‘digital map’ of its duct and pole network, so competitors could plan where to lay fibre.

Openreach also had to complete at least 88 percent of fault repairs within one or two working days of being notified, up from 80 percent currently. It also had to complete at least 97 percent of repairs within seven working days.

Homes and businesses

And now Ofcom says that its new measures can cut the upfront cost of building full-fibre networks by around half.

Until now, this option had only been available to companies focusing on residential and small-business customers, and it was used by firms such as Virgin Media, TalkTalk and CityFibre.

Between them, competing providers are currently using around 12,000 Openreach telegraph poles and 2,500 km of underground duct.

But this new draft decision by Ofcom would extend it to firms serving large businesses, as well as companies laying high-speed lines that support mobile and broadband networks.

Ofcom says that by extending access to business networks, it will allow companies to use Openreach’s infrastructure for all telecoms services, improving the business case for them to invest in full fibre and 5G networks.

Ofcom also said that ultrafast broadband (with download speeds of at least 300 Mbps) is now available to more than half of homes in the UK.

Full fibre, or FTTP (fibre to the premise) where there is no ‘last mile’ of copper to slow speeds down, is now available to 7 percent of UK properties.

Ofcom said it is also refreshing its regulation of ‘leased lines’ in parts of the country where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased-line networks.

“The amount of internet data used by people in the UK is expanding by around half every year,£ explained Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom’s Competition Group Director. “So, we’ll need faster, more reliable connections for our homes, offices and mobile networks.”

“Our measures are designed to support the UK’s digital future by providing investment certainty for continued competitive investment in fibre and 5G networks across the country,” he added.

Openreach response

Openreach told Silicon UK that it would consider Ofcom’s proposals carefully.

“Last year we delivered our best ever service performance, but we want to keep improving and we share Ofcom’s desire to improve service across the industry,” an Openreach spokesperson said.

“Our ducts and poles have been open to other companies since 2011, and we recognise that unrestricted access is a natural next step so we had volunteered to get on with that, ahead of Ofcom’s original schedule,” te spokesperson added.

“We welcome the greater clarity around Dark Fibre and the timeframe needed to deliver a fully functional product to market,” they added. “We’ll consider the range of proposals carefully, and we’ll continue to work with Ofcom on developing an environment that encourages greater investment.”

Mobile operator EE meanwhile announced this week that it intends to launch its 5G network in six UK cities on 30 May.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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