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Ofcom seeks to open up access to BT's telecoms infrastructure

Telecoms companies in the UK would be given new rights to access existing telecoms infrastructure owned by BT so they can "deploy their own networks", under new Ofcom proposals.21 Apr 2017

Under the measure, BT's network infrastructure division Openreach would be obliged to "make adjustments" to BT's existing underground ducts and chambers or overground telegraph poles to ensure the infrastructure is "ready to use" by rival network operators.

"Telecoms providers using PIA (physical infrastructure access) to deploy a competing network will on occasion encounter sections of infrastructure which they cannot use, either because the existing infrastructure is faulty or because there is insufficient capacity in that section," Ofcom said. "We consider that Openreach should adjust the physical infrastructure network to make it available for use."

"Absent such a requirement, telecoms providers would need to circumvent any congested sections of infrastructure themselves by building their own parallel physical infrastructure. This would introduce additional costs and delay, which together with not having certainty over the full extent of works required until deployment of the network actually commences, is likely to deter telecoms providers from investing in competing networks at scale," it said.

The measure is part of a package of proposals (253-page / 1.97MB PDF) outlined by the telecoms regulator which it said are aimed at addressing competition concerns that arise from "BT’s significant market power" in the wholesale local access market.

Ofcom's plans are predominantly aimed at helping BT's rivals to build competing broadband networks, but its proposals would allow the telecoms providers to use the new access rights to install networks that support non-broadband services too in certain circumstances.

Under its plans, BT's rivals would have the right to access BT's infrastructure to deploy local access networks that support non-broadband services provided that the main purpose of deploying the networks is to deliver broadband services to homes and businesses and the addition of networks to support non-broadband services "enables the investment".

Ofcom said it also intends to subject BT to a regulatory condition that would require the company to ensure that access rights for rivals are generally provided for on essentially the same basis that it enjoys.

"While this [no undue discrimination] condition does permit discrimination in certain circumstances, we propose to interpret the requirement as requiring strict equivalence in respect of all processes and sub-products that contribute to the supply and consumption of duct access, unless BT can demonstrate that a difference in respect of a specific process step or sub-product is justified," Ofcom said.

"When BT establishes new processes or platforms that contribute to the supply and consumption of duct access, these should be designed and implemented from the outset to be equivalent; not differing from those used by other telecoms providers, other than in the most exceptional circumstances. Complying with this requirement for non-discrimination would also mean that Openreach should recover costs in the same way whether it upgrades the duct and pole infrastructure to accommodate BT’s network or a competitor’s network," it said.

Ofcom said it also plans to cap the amount BT can charge rivals for access to its infrastructure.

Ofcom's package of measures also includes plans to require BT to give rivals access to a "digital mapping system" for its infrastructure, including details of the location of its ducts and poles as well as the "spare capacity", to help those companies plan their own networks.

BT would also be required to publish a 'reference offer' for physical infrastructure access that sets out "how operational processes … will work, together with relevant terms and conditions including service level agreements and guarantees", and ensure that its infrastructure has enough capacity to support "additional dropwires" that rivals can use to connect their networks to homes, according to the proposals.

Ofcom's proposals are open to consultation until 15 June.

Telecoms expert Luke Standen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said: "The remedies proposed by Ofcom in this consultation, together with other recent developments such as Openreach’s announced improvements to its passive infrastructure access processes, BT’s agreement to Ofcom’s requirements for the legal separation of Openreach and the updated Electronic Communications Code, go a long way to addressing the difficulties historically faced by BT’s competitors when seeking to deploy their own networks."

"Together, these developments will significantly reduce the time and cost required for BT’s competitors to build the superfast and ultrafast fibre networks required to meet the needs of consumers, businesses and government in the UK’s connected future," Standen said.