BT and Ofcom clash over 'dark fibre'

Ofcom plans to force BT to open up its high-speed ‘dark fibre’ network to direct access by rivals, although BT is expected to resist the communication watchdog’s pressures.

Ofcom said the changes, published in a consultation paper on Friday, could cut costs for households and businesses.

Ofcom said: “This should increase the opportunity for competitors to create tailored, high-capacity data links at cost-effective prices for their customers.”

BT is already required to sell wholesale leased-line products using its fibre-optic cables as well as its network equipment to other operators, but the new proposals would allow them to access the cables directly rather than relying on BT.

The service is known as dark fibre because the fibre-optic cables would not be ‘lit’ using BT's electronic equipment, but would instead be ‘lit’ by a rival firm installing its own equipment at the end of the cable.

The telecoms giant said the way the market currently works already created a level playing field and the changes would favour a few large companies to the detriment of others, undermining investment.

Competitors have long accused BT of the stranglehold it has on the UK’s telecoms network through its Openreach division, which some think should be split off. TalkTalk, for example, welcomed today’s announcement.

The new plans would require BT to make dark fibre available in all parts of the UK except central London, where there is already deemed to be enough competition in the market, and Hull, where most lines are leased by Kcom rather than BT.

BT said: “Mandating dark fibre risks favouring a few companies that have the greatest capability to deploy it, to the disadvantage of all other firms.”

Ofcom's proposals are subject to a consultation ending on July 31, with final decisions due early in 2016 and taking effect in April.

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