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Openreach gives altnets temporary reprieve from compliance crackdown

UK fibre builders have been given extra time to do better at telling Openreach where and when they access its ducts and poles during the course of their network deployments.

Nick Wood

January 31, 2024

3 Min Read

An industry source with knowledge of the matter told Telecoms.com that altnets have until 1 April to come up with alternative approaches to what's known as 'whereabouts' compliance. The previous deadline was 1 February.

It is understood that if they don't come up with anything better by then, BT's semi-autonomous networks division will revert to an earlier plan to take a hard line on non-compliance.

If that happens, Openreach will consider instances of non-compliance as a contractual breach, leaving those responsible open to some sort of sanction.

Openreach would rather it doesn't come to that, preferring instead to meet somewhere in the middle with the 169 network operators that make use of its physical infrastructure.

"The safety of our people, partners and anyone who comes into contact with the Openreach network is always our number one priority," said Katie Milligan, chief commercial officer at Openreach, in a statement to Telecoms.com. "We're continuing to work closely with the industry and Ofcom to make sure that any work happening on our network is not only recorded properly, but completed safely and securely."

The issue of whereabouts compliance – or the lack thereof – came to light in a Telegraph story (paywall) earlier in January.

Citing internal figures from Openreach, the report claims that altnets routinely fail to inform Openreach when they access its physical infrastructure during network construction.

This is a problem, because without proper record-keeping, if Openreach's infrastructure is somehow damaged, it might struggle to pinpoint where and when it happened and whose responsibility it is. The Telegraph took this to slightly alarmist lengths, suggesting that it leaves the UK's critical national telecoms infrastructure vulnerable to sabotage or cyber attack.

CityFibre was singled out in particular.

It was alleged that as of the end of October, almost half the jobs it carried out across Openreach's network had no whereabouts information. According to the aforementioned industry source, CityFibre accesses Openreach's physical infrastructure "several hundred times per month."

Openreach gave altnets until 1 February to get their collective house in order, but the matter was discussed during one of the regular meetings between the two sides last week, and the new deadline was subsequently agreed.

Telecoms.com reached out separately to both CityFibre representatives and altnet lobby group, the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA), for their take on the whole situation – including the change of deadline, and the meeting – and will update this story as necessary.

It is also understood that the telcos will work on the alternative compliance measures together with the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator (OTA).

Telecoms.com has contacted the OTA for confirmation and will update as needed.

While revelations about the scale of non-compliance are shocking – and not a great look for the UK telecoms industry as a whole – it's probably in everyone's interest to take a pragmatic approach to resolving this issue without potentially putting the brakes on UK fibre deployment.

Even if it means going easy on altnets that haven't been doing their homework.

For altnets, while the drive to fibre-up the UK as quickly as possible is understandable, it shouldn't come at the expense of proper procedure. Particularly if ignoring said procedure potentially risks the very infrastructure they insist will underpin every facet of the UK economy one day.

Hopefully there aren't any other corners being cut.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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