Ofcom to force BT to open up tunnels and poles

Ofcom_ducts-v3-hiresUK regulator Ofcom has unveiled plans to improve access to BT Openreach’s infrastructure by giving competitors access to underground tunnels and telegraph poles.

Ofcom said that alternative providers  should be able to lay fibre using BT’s ducts and poles as easily as BT itself – meaing that a non-discrimination requirement would be imposed on BT for all processes. The regulator said the cost to BT for providing this access should be spread across all users.

Ofcom has also said that Openreach must repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them.

Other measures include enabling alternative companies to lay fibre for consumers and large businesses, provided the purpose of the network is primarily to deliver broadband to homes and small offices.

BT will additionally be obliged to ensure capacity is available on its telegraph poles for additional fibre cables that connect buildings to a competitor’s network.

Finally, Openreach will be obliged to continue to develop a ‘digital map’ of its duct and pole network so competitors can plan new networks.

The regulator said that it was concerned that the UK has very low coverage of full-fibre broadband, and wanted to address the concerns raised by BT’s competitors about costs and time required to build these networks. It cited the statistic that full-fibre broadband coverage in the UK currently stands at around 2%, which compares to over 70% in Japan, Spain and Portugal.

“People increasingly need fast, reliable broadband. We’ll make easier for companies to offer their own full-fibre broadband more cheaply by accessing Openreach’s tunnels and telegraph poles,” said Ofcom’s competition policy director, Yih-Choung Teh.

“This will put other providers on a level playing field with BT, so they have the confidence to invest in their own full-fibre networks.”

Commenting on the announcement, Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at broadband advice site Cable.co.uk, said: “While it is unlikely that BT’s primary competitors will want to use Openreach’s poles and ducts to launch their own nationwide networks – the cost of such an undertaking would be gargantuan – improved access does invite greater competition from smaller providers whose goal it is to serve a specific region or locale. Smaller local providers tend to provide a better service to customers due both to the number of, and proximity to, their customers.”

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