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Ofcom lets BT keep Openreach around – provided better back end access is granted

BT has been spared the fate of being forced to hive off network arm Openreach, so long as it makes it easier for rivals to access its poles and ducts. 

Initial findings from Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications recommend that Openreach must meet new targets on quality of service as well as open itself up to all ISPs, potentially allowing rivals to reach customers with FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) broadband using BT’s network of underground ducts and telegraph poles. 

The UK’s telecoms regulator said: “the evidence from Ofcom’s review shows Openreach still has an incentive to make decisions in the interests of BT, rather than BT’s competitors, which can lead to competition problems.

“Openreach’s governance lacks independence from BT Group. The wider company has retained control over Openreach’s decision-making and the budget that is spent on the network, and other telecoms companies have not been consulted sufficiently on investment plans that affect them.”

BT’s chief executive Gavin Patterson welcomed the proposals, provided that BT’s vocal rivals chip in to cover Openreach’s running costs. 

“We are happy to let other companies use our ducts and poles if they are genuinely keen to invest very large sums as we have done. Our ducts and poles have been open to competitors since 2009 but there has been little very interest to date. We will see if that now changes.”

Rival ISP Hyperoptic welcomed the news, saying that it plans to make use of BT’s ducts to bring its up to 1Gbps services to more customers. 

“Hyperoptic welcomes Ofcom’s decision to force Openreach to properly open its duct and pole network to allow other operators to rollout competing infrastructure services.  

“We also advise Ofcom to ensure that all customers of Openreach have a voice in future network decisions and not just those that resell the plain old vanilla FTTC [Fibre to the Cabinet] services – it is those that are truly innovating that offer the UK the best chance at a digital future.”

Ofcom lets BT keep Openreach around - provided better back end access is granted

BT announced plans last year to put services – which have delivered download speeds of around 700Mbps in lab conditions – within reach of 10 million homes by the end of 2020

While this would offer services significantly faster than the top speeds currently possible via FTTC services – which cap at 80Mbps – bandwidth still decreases over distance, a problem not suffered by pure fibre to the premises lines. Opening up ducts and poles to rival ISPs could spearhead an FTTP arms race which may see left in the dust. 

Related: 4K and 8K video – Easily doable on gigabit-over-copper broadbandUnder Ofcom’s proposals, Openreach will also be subject to greater scrutiny when it comes to repairing faults and connecting new customers. At present, Openreach is required to fix and install domestic lines within two and 12 working days

Ofcom also wants customers to be automatically compensated for faults and a quality of service league table introduced, allowing customers to easily switch and shop around. 

Sharon White, Ofcom’s chief executive, added: “People across the UK today need affordable, reliable phone and broadband services. Coverage and quality are improving, but not fast enough to meet the growing expectations of consumers and businesses.

“So today we’ve announced fundamental reform of the telecoms market – more competition, a new structure for Openreach, tougher performance targets, and a range of measures to boost service quality.”

Ofcom will reveal ‘detailed proposals’ on these tougher performance targets ‘later this year’. 




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