Britain’s biggest telecoms firm BT will be forced to give rival networks more access to its Openreach infrastructure under proposed Ofcom rules, in a bid to encourage a faster roll out of high-speed fibre cables.
Rivals can currently only use Openreach telegraph poles and underground tunnels to lay fibre networks for residential and small-business customers. Under the new plan, BT will have to give access to networks serving large businesses too, incentivising other telecoms firms to invest in fibre.
Openreach, a division of BT that holds the keys to the UK’s biggest main broadband infrastructure network, has resisted giving access to business networks in the past, but will now have to give more flexibility to companies like Virgin Media, Talktalk and Cityfibre.
“Our measures are designed to support the UK’s digital future by providing investment certainty for continued competitive investment in fibre and 5G networks,” said Ofcom’s competition group director Jonathan Oxley.
“The amount of internet data used by people in the UK is expanding by around half every year. So, we’ll need faster, more reliable connections for our homes, offices and mobile networks.”
Ofcom said it plans to consult in December on proposals for a review of business telecoms market rules for the five years from 2021.
“We’ll consider the range of proposals carefully, and we’ll continue to work with Ofcom on developing an environment that encourages greater investment.”
An Openreach spokesperson also said the division shares Ofcom’s desire to improve industry service. “Our ducts and poles have been open to other companies since 2011, and we recognise that unrestricted access is a natural next step so we had volunteered to get on with that, ahead of Ofcom’s original schedule,” they said.
This appears to refer to last year, when Ofcom published draft rules to force Openreach to give rivals access to the infrastructure for residential and small-business customers. Then, Openreach headed the regulator off by volunteering to give this access before the publicly-announced draft rules were forced upon it.
City A.M. understands what Openreach offered last year fell short of what the regulator thought was required to address its concerns at the time, but Ofcom still allowed it to go ahead.
It is unclear whether Openreach plans to volunteer its own proposals again in the wake of the most recent draft rules.