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UK regulator proposes measures to support full fibre investment

UK communications watchdog, Ofcom has outlined a package of proposed measures to support long-term investment in full-fibre networks

The announcement comes following this week’s publication by the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (see UK government outlines plans for full fibre in 15 years). Ofcom states that consistent, predictable regulation over the coming years can help companies build on recent full fibre commitments, and support the government’s ambition for 15 million homes to have access to full-fibre broadband by 2025 – as set out in the aforementioned review. This in turn, says the communications regulator, will lead to a more rapid transition away from copper.

Amongst Ofcom’s proposed measures is the regulation of business and residential markets together, as companies investing in full fibre increasingly seek to offer a range of services over a common underlying network.

There are also plans for unrestricted access to Openreach’s ducts and poles. The existing requirement allowing competitors to use the incumbent’s telegraph poles and underground ducts to lay their own fibre cables is currently restricted to companies offering mainly residential and small-business services. Ofcom intends to consult in the Autumn on plans to extend this access to companies offering high-speed lines for large businesses, as well as networks carrying data for mobile operators.

A flexible approach to regulation is also in the pipeline to reflect how many different competing fibre companies are present in a particular geographic area. Where competing networks emerge, there will be scope for Ofcom to deregulate. In addition, by extending the duration of regulation from three to five years or more, says the watchdog, investors could be assured of longer-term certainty.

These plans follow the direction set by Ofcom in its 2016 Strategic Review of Digital Communications, which focused on boosting investment in full fibre (see BT avoids breakup following Ofcom digital review). This week’s proposals follow on from this review with the intention of creating the conditions for companies to invest in modern networks.

Ofcom says it will consult in detail on these proposals later this year.

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