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BT forced to give greater Openreach access to rivals

Britain’s telecoms regulator is planning to order BT to give rivals greater access to its Openreach infrastructure in a bid to speed up the launch of high-speed fibre cables.

The draft rules announced by Ofcom would force Openreach, the physical infrastructure arm of BT, to give rival telecoms companies further access to its network of telegraph poles and underground ducts so that they lay their own fibre and 5G services.

Smaller rivals Virgin Media, TalkTalk and CityFibre already use Openreach for residential connections, using around 12,000 Openreach poles and 2,500km of underground layout.

The new rules would require Openreach to allow groups that serve large businesses to also use the infrastructure, including “all telecoms services, improving the business case for them to invest in cutting-edge, full fibre and 5G networks”.

However, rivals have said the rules will not move the dial on competition because they only give improved access to the very edge of the network.

Rivals want access to what is known as Openreach’s “dark fibre” – fibre that is only used by BT and not used by other networks – which would allow them to cut costs and connect more businesses. The new rules will give access to some of these fibre connections, but not to all of Openreach’s network.

A Vodafone spokesman said it would be better for Ofcom to force BT to open up all its “dark fibre” areas. “Sadly this is another opportunity Ofcom has missed to plug the full fibre hole in the UK,” Vodafone said.

Ofcom competition director Jonathan Oxley said: “Our measures are designed to support the UK’s digital future by providing investment certainty for continued competitive investment in fibre and 5G networks across the country.”

An Openreach spokesman said: “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 to 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.”

Ofcom plans to hold a consultation on the proposals at the end of the year, its draft decision statement said.

Source: The Telegraph

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