Telecoms regulator Ofcom has revealed more details on its plan to open up BT's infrastructure arm, Openreach, so that BT's rivals can more easily connect homes and businesses directly to their own networks.
After a long-running battle fuelled by rivals Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, BT finally agreed to formally separate Openreach from the rest of the company.
Under the new terms, BT remains the legal owner of the company and sets the organisation's budget every year, but it will have no say in how Openreach deploys its funds. Meanwhile, Openreach must consult with Sky, Zen, A&A, Vodafone, TalkTalk and other ISPs that provide services via its network before beginning any major infrastructure projects.
Openreach's sole focus is to manage the fibre and copper network infrastructure that all providers, including BT Retail, use to deliver services.
The next step for Ofcom, in a bid to make the 'playing field' more level in the broadband space, is to make it quicker and easier for BT's competitors to build their own fibre networks piggy-backed on Openreach's existing telegraph poles and ducts.
The main proposals include:
- The ability for providers to lay fibre using BT's ducts and poles as easily as BT itself, while the cost to BT for providing this access should be spread across all users;
- Openreach should repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them;
- Companies can lay fibre for consumers and large businesses, provided the purpose of the network is primarily to deliver broadband to homes and small offices;
- BT has to ensure capacity is available on its telegraph poles for additional fibre cables that connect buildings to a competitor's network;
- Openreach has to continue to develop a ‘digital map' of its duct and pole network so competitors can plan new networks.
"People increasingly need fast, reliable broadband. We'll make it easier for companies to offer their own full-fibre broadband more cheaply by accessing Openreach's tunnels and telegraph poles," said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom's competition policy director.
"This will put other providers on a level playing field with BT, so they have the confidence to invest in their own full-fibre networks," he added.
The proposals form part of Ofcom's Wholesale Local Access Market Review for the period from April 2018 to March 2021. The consultation closes on 15 June 2017, and Ofcom expects to publish its final decisions in early 2018, with new rules taking effect on 1 April 2018.
Ofcom is also considering changes to Openreach's rental charges for accessing its duct network, with proposals set to be published this summer.
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