Ofcom plans to restrict use of ‘fibre’ to describe FTTH networks only

UK regulator Ofcom is to consult on a plan to stop broadband service providers from using the word ‘fibre’ to describe any type of network connection other than FTTH.

Under the watchdog’s planned guidance, broadband providers would only be able to use the terms ‘fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ on their websites and in contracts if their network uses fibre-optic cables all the way from the exchange to the home.

Ofcom argues that the term ‘fibre’ is currently applied inconsistently by the industry, and is often used to describe connections that are part-fibre, part copper.

It said that its own research found that only 46% of customers who report being on full-fibre broadband live in areas where it is actually available.

According to Ofcom, current rules governing how to describe broadband services do not provide sufficient clarity and consistency with regards to underlying technologies.

Instead, the regulator plans to deliver new guidance requiring providers describe their infrastructure “using one or two consistent terms” and more detail being provided to explain what is being provided.

The proposals could have a significant impact on the way Virgin Media markets its HFC-based broadband services.

The consultation document makes it clear that under the proposed new rules, operators should “include a short description of the underlying technology of the network delivering the broadband service, on their websites and in contract information, using one or two terms such as ‘fibre’, ‘cable’, ‘full-fibre’, ‘copper’ or ‘part-fibre’.”

They should, moreover, “only use the terms ‘fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ when referring to fibre-to-the-premises networks”.

Cable operators such as Virgin Media would be required to use phrasing such as “part fibre, part cable” to describe the bulk of their broadband connections.

“Virgin Media O2 is the UK’s largest gigabit broadband provider delivering speeds more than 18 times faster than the UK average and is continuing to invest billions to deliver more consumer choice and network competition in the UK. What counts from any form of connectivity is the end customer experience and that has always been our focus. While this is an area that has been looked at repeatedly in the past, we’ll be making our views clear to Ofcom,” a Virgin Media O2 spokesperson told DTVE.

“It’s vital that customers are provided with the right information to help them choose the best broadband service for them. But some of the industry jargon used to describe the underlying technology supporting their broadband service can be unclear and inconsistent, meaning customers are left confused,” said Selina Chadha, Ofcom’s director of connectivity.

“So today we’re proposing to introduce new guidance to ensure that broadband firms give clearer, straightforward information about their services – making it easier for people to take advantage of more reliable, and potentially higher speed technology, as it becomes available.”

Views on the new proposals must be submitted by May 3 ahead of a final decision to be published before the end of the year.

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