Ofcom launch consultation on competition in fibre networks

14 December 2018   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Regulator hopes to develop long-term plans to support investment into full fibre networks across the UK.

They have identified three levels of competition that will impact full fibre availability: competitive, potentially competitive and non-competitive areas.

This will ensure that full fibre networks are rolled out to areas that might not be deemed commercially viable by internet providers.

Along with this, Ofcom hope to identify areas that could be opened up to competition, while also establishing which areas are competitive and so don't need regulation.

The consultation is due to close at the end of February 2019 to help Ofcom establish regulation from 2021 onwards.

fibre broadband

Why is regulation needed?

Ofcom anticipate that identifying locations which are unlikely to prove competitive will help them regulate to ensure those areas receive effective full fibre coverage.

The approach outlined in the consultation is a flexible one based on analysing network competition in different geographical locations.

These assessments will be made by looking at existing networks and planned deployment, plus discussions with operators to understand their investment plans.

The data they have examined so far suggests that current deployment plans from operators would increase general fibre coverage from the existing figure of 46% up to 58%.

These figures include existing fibre networks provided by operators, along with networks managed by Openreach.

Ofcom estimate that up to 30% of UK premises would be in locations that are unlikely to be deemed commercially viable and therefore would need to be rolled out by Openreach.

Rural and Urban Divide

Existing broadband customers in rural areas are aware there are pockets of the UK with low or non-existence broadband coverage.

Ofcom's Connected Nations 2017 report found that there are 1.1 million premises in the UK that do not have access to a broadband service that meets their minimum download speed of 10Mbit/s and upload speed of 1Mbit/s.

In terms of a rural / urban divide, 17% of premises in rural areas are affected while this figure drops to just 2% for urban areas.

The divide is even greater in Scotland where 27% of rural properties can't receive minimum broadband speeds, while only 2% of urban properties struggle.

We have previously examined the options for rural broadband customers on our site, finding that rural superfast fibre is a viable option for many communities.

This is because rural fibre lines are often installed by BT alongside traditional phone lines, and so reach more households than other operators are commercially able to do.

However, this is not full fibre, also known as FTTP (fibre to the premises), which is a fibre connection all the way from the exchange into a property.

In most areas, the final stretch of line is made from copper and so the signal is carried over a much slower line than it would be in a full fibre situation.

This means that customers more than 300 metres from the nearest fibre cabinet can lose up to half of the advertised speed in the wires between the cabinet and their home.

Fibre rollout ambitions

Ofcom's latest consultation in the latest step in a Government strategy to rollout full fibre nationwide by 2033.

Earlier this year, the Government allocated £95m to 13 areas to improve fibre connections at public buildings and businesses.

They also announced an additional £200m in November that is specifically targeted at rural areas including Cornwall, the Scottish borders and the Welsh valleys.

The first deployments to those areas involving the funding will be to primary schools within those locations.

However, given that the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) suggested that full fibre rollout nationwide would cost around £30bn, these funding announcements aren't anywhere near sufficient for the long-term rollout plans.

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