Ofcom Shelves Plan To Give Telcos Access To BT Dark Fibre

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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BT’s competitors showed little interest in the proposal, which would have limited speeds to 1 Gbit/s

Ofcom said it has decided not to introduce a proposed competitive measure that would have given telecoms companies restricted access to unused portions of BT’s Openreach fibre-optic network.

The regulator cited low demand for the decision.

Ofcom consulted with telecoms firms on the remedy last November, following a judgement by the Competition Appeal Tribunal in favour of BT’s challenge to a previous, less restricted Ofcom proposal.

The measure would have given BT’s competitors direct access to its so-called “dark fibre”, portions of its fibre-optic network that aren’t currently in use, but only at speeds of 1 Gigabits per second (Gbit/s) until March 2019.

packetfrontLow demand

Ofcom said could have meant significant savings for telcos in the short term, but the companies it was targeting responded with little enthusiasm.

The companies most likely to purchase the fibre, TalkTalk, Three and Vodafone, said one of their primary uses of the network would have been to give them the flexibility to upgrade to higher bandwidth at very low additional cost. That wouldn’t have been available to them with the restricted speeds.

Other companies said that although they might have been able to reduce their immediate costs for 1 Gbit/s broadband products by purchasing dark fibre, they, too, had limited interest because this would only be a short-term investment, since they anticipated needing to upgrade to higher speeds in the next few years.

Others said they wouldn’t be able to use dark fibre right away because, as a new product they would need to run trials.

“It is clear from this that the interest in a restricted dark fibre product is lower than we anticipated,” Ofcom said in a statement.

Future plans

It added that companies who offer fibre networks themselves, including CityFibre, euNetworks, Virgin Media and Zayo , opposed the measure due to their concerns it would stifle investment in competing infrastructure, along with other issues.

“Having carefully considered all of the consultation responses, we have decided not to introduce a restricted dark fibre remedy as a temporary condition for the period until March 2019,” Ofcom said.

But the regulator said it still considers dark fibre important in promoting competition in the leased line market, and therefore plans to consider its use in a further market review.

Leased lines are used by businesses and telcos, for business’ own needs as well as mobile phone and fixed residential broadband services.

“We continue to believe dark fibre can play an important role in promoting competition in leased lines – supporting better broadband and mobile services,” Ofcom said.

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