Ofcom tells Openreach to open up ducts and poles to BT rivals by April 2018

21 April 2017 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

The UK regulator, Ofcom, has set out its plans to make BT open up its ducts and poles to competing operators – and has given the industry until 15 June to comment.

BT’s last-mile wholesale network subsidiary, Openreach, will have to adopt the new rules from 1 April 2018, said Ofcom. “We are also considering changes to Openreach’s rental charges for accessing its duct network, and we expect to publish specific proposals on this in the summer,” added the regulator.

Ofcom said its aim is to provide access to BT’s ducts and poles on fair terms, with the cost shared across all users. The main purpose it to provide broadband connections to homes and small businesses, but competitive operators will be able to connect large enterprises if the fibres are mixed use.

BT will be obliged to ensure ducts are accessible and that poles will have enough capacity, said Ofcom.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s competition policy director, said: “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. 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.”

Ofcom said it remained “concerned that the UK has very low coverage of full-fibre broadband, where cable and fibre lines connect directly to homes and offices”.

Competitors have complained in the past that BT has charged high prices for surveys to check whether there is capacity on poles or ducts – and then made similar charges again days later for new surveys on the same infrastructure.

Ofcom said that “Openreach has made the process for accessing its ducts and poles more efficient, following a trial last year with five other telecoms companies. Other providers now carry out their own work on the infrastructure, which has helped reduce delays.”

But there is more work to be done, said the regulator. Openreach has not only to repair faulty infrastructure within an agreed timeframe to make it accessible, but it also has to make an existing digital map of the network easier to use by other providers.

The full consultation is available from Ofcom online.