Openreach puts dark fibre plans on ice after successful legal challenge against regulator Ofcom

Oliver Gill
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Dark fibre was set to be launched by Openreach on 1 October

BT infrastructure arm Openreach today confirmed it will not open up unused fibre networks to internet firms as previously timetabled after its legal victory in July against the UK’s telecoms regulator.

Ofcom sought to force Openreach to open up so-called “dark fibre” cabling to the likes of TalkTalk and Vodafone. The process would bypass the need to lease bandwidth from Openreach, something that generates the wider BT group over £1bn each year.

Dark fibre is where internet firms lease strands of fibre cable rather than bandwidth from operators. It effectively allows firms leasing it to link their own infrastructure via fibre connections with limited influence from Openreach.

At the end of July, a Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) ruled Ofcom had made incorrect definitions when submitting the dark fibre ground rules to Openreach.

Ofcom had planned to force Openreach to roll out dark fibre on 1 October.

Read more: BT Openreach faces "material reductions" from Ofcom plans

Today, Openreach said that in the light of the CAT decision, plans for a future roll-out have been shelved.

Other firms that own fibre cables, such as CityFibre and Virgin Media, were likely to be impacted by the Ofcom plans. They currently offer dark fibre leasing and their services would come under regulatory scrutiny as a result.

CityFibre director of policy Mark Collins said:

Rather than continuing to drive increased dependency on Openreach, we suggest that Ofcom goes back to the drawing board to focus on delivering more appropriate and proportionate remedies that help meet its own strategic objectives to support increased competitive investment in full fibre for the UK.

A spokesperson for Openreach said: “We’ve been working closely with our communications provider customers for over a year to develop this product [dark fibre], and we remain keen to discuss alternatives that could meet their needs.”

Ofcom reiterated previous comments that dark fibre "can bring significant benefits for businesses and consumers".

"Once we have the Tribunal’s reasoning, we will know how best to proceed in order to protect competition and consumers," a spokesperson for Ofcom said.

Read more: Openreach says it will take until 2021 to remove two letters

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