Ofcom orders Openreach to open up to rivals

Wednesday, 29 May, 2019

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has ordered Openreach to reduce restrictions on access to its telegraph poles and underground ducts to companies that want to lay their own fibre networks.

Previously, Ofcom had concentrated on increasing ease of access to this equipment for home and small business broadband providers. Thanks to that strategy, Ofcom estimates that over 50% of UK homes now have access to ultrafast broadband, or in other words, download speeds of at least 300Mbit/s.

Ofcom’s latest announcement extends this benefit to business customers as well – not only companies with internet access but also companies wanting to build broadband and mobile phone networks. It’s estimated that such access will cut the cost of creating fibre networks by half.

So far, BT rivals including TalkTalk and Virgin Media have used 12,000 Openreach telegraph poles and laid fibre along 2,500km of underground ducts. Now Ofcom wants even more access to other companies and expand competition.

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.

We welcome the greater clarity around Dark Fibre and the timeframe needed to deliver a fully functional product market. We’ll consider the range of proposals carefully, and we’ll continue to work with Ofcom on developing an environment that encourages greater investment.

- Press statement: Openreach

Ofcom has also looked at areas where no other networks are operating in BT exchanges and has ordered Openreach to open up access to its so-called ‘dark fibre network’ and ‘at a price which reflects its costs.’

Dark fibre isn’t as ominous as it sounds. It refers to those parts of a network infrastructure that are not used – hence dark. In other words, data is transported over optical fibre networks by passing light through the cables. If there is no transported data, then there is no light.

Ofcom is also revising the rules on leased lines. Ofcom said that where competition remains limited, they will continue to regulate Openreach prices as well as ‘ensure high service standards for installation and repairs.’

The aim is that by 2021, residential and business internet access will be regulated on the same basis, which will allow companies to use one network to provide services to both.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.