Ofcom to regulate UK fibre markets geographically

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UK regulator Ofcom is proposing a radical change to the wholesale fixed broadband market by regulating it on a geographical basis starting from 2021.

According to the published consultation documents, Ofcom’s strategy is to promote investment and competition in fibre networks. The regulator said it has realised that both these two things differ geographically therefore regulation should also vary by geography.

The regulator proposes to categorise areas of the country based on the competitive conditions of those areas. Three distinct categories have been identified:

  • Competitive areas: These areas have effective competition and places where Ofcom would not need to regulate. Specifically this is where there are at least two existing networks in addition to an area where Openreach supplies ultrafast broadband and leased line services.

  • Potentially competitive areas: These are areas where there is insufficient competition but there is the potential for further network rollout or is currently underway. In addition, Ofcom will assess whether or not there is potential for further competitive entry.

  • Non-competitive areas: Ofcom defines this as areas that have no alternative networks to Openreach and any large-scale rollout is unlikely. The regulator plans to encourage investment in these areas by enabling access to Openreach networks protecting consumers from high prices.

Ofcom said it will assign geographic areas to these three categories by assessing the presence existing, planned and future network networks – using a combination of data provided by network operators and discussions with said network operators about planned rollouts. 65% is the threshold for each of the three categories; an existing network in order for the network to be considered present must cover in other words 65% of premises in any one postcode. Additionally 65% of premises in a postcode must be covered by a planned network rollout in order for it to be considered as a planned deployment and for potential future rollouts 65% of the premises within a postcode must be within the identified cluster to be a considered future rollout.

The regulator says that it will “seek stakeholders’ view in our initial proposals in this consultation” and will publish an initial consultation on any feedback it receives by spring 2019 with a view of consulting on a full set of market proposals, including market definition, market power and remedies by autumn 2019.

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