In July, the regulator detailed a new ‘fibre-to-the-door’ strategy that would provide an alternative to the current copper infrastructure. It argues that network competition is the most effective spur for continued investment in high quality, fibre networks. At the same time this would also reduce the reliance on Openreach as a provider of such services.
“Today we’re explaining how access to BT’s tunnels and poles could be improved, allowing other providers to connect ultrafast, fibre broadband directly to UK homes and offices. Our plans will give providers increased confidence to invest in their own full-fibre networks at reduced cost,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom Competition Policy Director.
Ofcom plans to make it quicker and easier for rival providers to build their own fibre networks direct to homes and offices using BT’s existing telegraph poles and ‘ducts’ – the small, underground tunnels that carry telecoms cables. This would give BT’s competitors the flexibility to innovate as technology evolves, and respond to changes in their customers’ needs.
Other countries have seen duct and pole access used to extend fibre to people’s doorsteps. In Spain and Portugal, the resulting competition has helped deliver full-fibre broadband coverage of 79% and 70% respectively. This compares to around 2% currently in the UK.
In order that third-party operators are not disadvantaged when using BT infrastructure a number of changes are being proposed. These include the way that BT would recover the costs of providing third-party access, such as repairing ducts, in the same way it recovers these costs for its own deployments – for example, by spreading them across all services that make use of the duct.
Ofcom is also considering changes to Openreach’s rental charges for accessing its duct network. These rental charges are currently linked to Openreach’s costs, but an explicit cap on prices could provide greater planning certainty for providers in future.
BT intends to connect 2 million premises in this way by 2020, and Virgin Media plans to extend its ultrafast cable and fibre network to reach a further 4 million premises. Other providers such as TalkTalk, CityFibre and KCOM are also expanding current trials or deployment of full-fibre broadband.