New Ofcom rules give greater network access to BT’s rivals

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

Companies laying high-speed fibre cables for broadband and mobile networks will benefit from greater access to Openreach's telegraph poles and underground tunnels, under draft decisions announced today by Ofcom.

Openreach, which maintains the UK's main broadband network, is already required to let rival companies use its telegraph poles and underground 'ducts' to lay their own fibre networks, under rules set by Ofcom last year.

Until now, this measure - which can cut the upfront cost of building full-fibre networks by around half - has been available to companies focusing on residential and small-business customers. 

Fibre network access extended

Today's draft decision would extend it to firms serving large businesses, as well as companies laying high-speed lines that support mobile and broadband networks.

Virgin Media, TalkTalk and CityFibre are among the firms already using Openreach's ducts and poles to connect thousands of homes and businesses to faster, more reliable broadband. 

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

Building investment in fibre and 5G

Extending access to business networks would allow companies to use Openreach's infrastructure for all telecoms services, improving the business case for them to invest in cutting-edge, full fibre and 5G networks..

Ultrafast broadband, which offers download speeds of at least 300 Mbps, is now available to more than half of homes in the UK. 

Full fibre, a form of ultrafast broadband that uses fibre cables all the way from the exchange to people's homes, is now available to seven per cent of UK properties. And while the number of full-fibre lines more than doubled last year, Ofcom wants to see coverage extended to millions of properties in the coming months.

Supporting competition and investment certainty in business markets

Ofcom also said it was “refreshing” its regulation of 'leased lines' - high-speed data connections used by large organisations, which form the backbone of the UK's mobile and broadband networks.

Under its draft decision, in areas of the country where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased-line networks, Ofcom would continue to regulate what it can charge providers to use these services, keeping prices flat. 

“We would also impose strict requirements on Openreach for repairs and installations, to ensure high service standards are delivered”, the regulator said in a statement.

Ofcom added that, in many areas, there are no rival networks present at BT's exchanges. Even with duct and pole access, network competition is unlikely to emerge for connections from these exchanges. 

Here, Openreach would be required to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, at a price that reflects its costs.

This service is called 'dark fibre', because the cables are 'lit' by competitors with their own equipment. 

Introducing dark fibre in only these areas would significantly reduce the cost for mobile and broadband operators to connect their networks, without undermining their incentives to lay new, competing fibre cables where it is economic to do so.

Where there is stronger network competition, or prospective competition, regulation would be lighter than existing rules, to allow this competition to flourish.

"The amount of internet data used by people in the UK is expanding by around half every year”, said 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."

Welcome to Prolific London

Get all the latest media, marketing, technology and creative news for the capital