Ofcom opens up BT's ducts and poles to other broadband providers

Ofcom opens up BT's fibre network to third parties

Ofcom has also ruled that  BT must offer competitors the ability to run services over its emerging fibre-optic access network.

The move should strengthen competition in the market for next-generation broadband access.

Virgin Media, the cable services company that already has direct connections to 12.7m homes, says it would like to use BT's poles and ducts to extend its network to underserved areas.

"This is a good step in the right direction," said Gareth Mead, a spokesman for Virgin Media, "but BT has yet to set a price, which will be indicative of the extent to which it will economically viable."   

The 'ducts and poles' ruling means BT's competitors will be able to run their own fibre-optic connections to homes and businesses, and then offer high-speed broadband services without relying on BT's existing copper-line infrastructure or emerging fibre-optic network. This will enable providers to introduce fibre-optic services in areas that BT has decided not to cover, or to launch such services before BT has got around to doing so.

Mead pointed out that despite Ofcom's ruling, there are still hurdles to be overcome before an operator can start running fibre over  BT's physical infrastructure. One is that Ofcom's Electronic Communications Code currently  forbids permanent aerial broadband connections. The second is that BT has private agreements with the National Framers' Union and the Country Landowners Association that define the cost of carrying its services over rural land. Any company that wanted to run a parallel fibre network over BT's physical infrastructure would have to make its own agreements with farmers and landowners.

"We've asked for more transparency on those agreements but have yet to persuade BT on that," said Mead. "It remains a significant hurdle because the further out you go from urban centres the more you rack up the costs."

Ofcom's ruling that BT must offer to carry competing services over its fibre-optic network takes a  similar approach to the local-loop unbundling scheme that enabled broadband competition over BT's copper-line network. BT will set the prices for this access and Ofcom hopes they will be constrained by competition in the wider broadband market and rules to prevent anti-competitive pricing.

Ed Richards, Ofcom's chief executive, said: ‘Today Ofcom has finalised a clear regulatory framework to promote investment, competition and innovation to enable as many consumers as possible to benefit from these exciting new services.'

The UK currently has 7 million unbundled copper lines, according to Ofcom.

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