Ofcom says ‘put your money where your mouth is’ to UK fibre moaners

Ofcom has unveiled its masterplan to reduce the UK’s reliance on Openreach, allowing CSPs greater access to BT's ducts and poles to encourage rivals to lay their own ‘full-fibre’ networks.

Jamie Davies

December 6, 2016

3 Min Read
Fibre Network Broadband Fast

Ofcom has unveiled its masterplan to reduce the UK’s reliance on Openreach, allowing CSPs greater access to BT’s ducts and poles to encourage rivals to lay their own ‘full-fibre’ networks.

While the move will be welcomed by many ultra-fast broadband enthusiasts, it will also test the bank accounts of BT’s chasing pack and their appetite to invest in initiatives where the ROI is not so short-term. It is a clever move from the Ofcom team, as it takes the shouting away from its own doorstep and makes the challenger CSPs back up the noise they have been making in recent months.

“Fibre is the future for broadband, and Ofcom is helping to deliver that through competition between networks,” said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom Competition Policy Director.

“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.”

The last couple of months has seen the ‘Fix Britain’s Internet’ campaign generate headlines on a regular basis as its main characters complain loudly over BT’s lack of investment in fibre networks. Reliance on copper based solutions, such as G.Fast, would never deliver the speeds required in the digital economy, therefore BT was hindering the capabilities of Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and the rest of its competitors (as well as itself) through its Openreach wholesale business.

The latest move from Ofcom will give these vocal competitors more opportunity to access the BT infrastructure and make their own investments. Ofcom is basically saying to the rest of the industry ‘you’ve been making enough noise about BT’s lack of investment, let’s see how much cash you’re willing to spend’.

The move itself should test out whether the challengers are willing to invest to correct the wrong and deliver on promises to the consumer, or whether the ‘Fix Britain’s Internet’ campaign is noise for the sake of having a swipe at BT. Will G.Fast start to look a little bit more attractive once it’s their own wallets which will be taking a pounding?

Overall, Ofcom is on a mission to create fairer competition throughout the UK. By allowing competitors the opportunity to lay fibre in the ducts as easily as BT, there should be very little reason for the ‘Fix Britain’s Internet’ campaigners to complain, and as consumers we should have fibre-to-the-premise in no time whatsoever; it’s a good theory, but let’s see how that plays out over the next couple of months.

Other updates to the masterplan include changes to Openreach’s rental charges for accessing its duct network, allowing competitors to undertake the engineering themselves and whether Openreach should have to upgrade its drop wires with fibre at the request of any telecoms provider who is offering full-fibre broadband to a customer.

In theory, the move should open up the broadband market, and since BT’s challengers have been complaining about a lack of fibre investment in recent months so loudly, this opportunity should drastically increase the rollout. Having said that Ofcom made similar proclamations at the start of the year, so the usual glacial progress seems to be at work here.

A pessimist however may come to the conclusion the ‘Fix Britain’s Internet’ campaign was just a stick to beat BT, and fibre investments will come as slowly as they have been over recent months. After all, Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and the rest of them will have to find a pretty hefty amount of cash from somewhere, and there are always reasons why not to invest as they have found out so apparently through their relationship with Openreach/BT.

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