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Ofcom lays out plans for opening up BT's Openreach to rivals

Openreach will have to make it easier for other companies to connect their services to homes and offices

TELECOMS WATCHDOG Ofcom has laid out plans which it hopes will improve access to Openreach's infrastructure, making it cheaper and easier for BT's competitors to connect their own fibre broadband service to homes and businesses.

After a long-running battle spurred on by rivals Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, BT finally agreed to separate its infrastructure arm Openreach from the main company last year.

Under the new terms, BT is still legally the owner of the company and sets the budget that Openreach is given every year, but it will have no say in how Openreach uses this budget. What's more, Openreach must consult with those that it serves such as Sky and TalkTalk before beginning any major infrastructure projects.

Openreach's sole focus is to manage the fibre and copper broadband infrastructure that all providers, including BT Retail, use to deliver services.

The next step for Ofcom, in a bid to make a more level-playing ground in the broadband space, is to make it quicker and easier for BT's competitors to build their own fibre networks using Openreach's existing telegraph poles and ducts.

The main proposals include:                                           

The ability for providers to lay fibre using BT's ducts and poles as easily as BT itself, while the cost to BT for providing this access should be spread across all users. Openreach should repair faulty infrastructure and clear blocked tunnels where necessary for providers to access them. Companies can lay fibre for consumers and large businesses, provided the purpose of the network is primarily to deliver broadband to homes and small offices. BT has to ensure capacity is available on its telegraph poles for additional fibre cables that connect buildings to a competitor's network. Openreach has to continue to develop a ‘digital map' of its duct and pole network so competitors can plan new networks.

"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," said Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom's competition policy director.

"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," he added.

The proposals form part of Ofcom's Wholesale Local Access Market Review for the period from April 2018 to March 2021. The consultation closes on 15 June 2017, and Ofcom expects to publish its final decisions in early 2018, with new rules taking effect on 1 April 2018. µ

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