Ofcom’s proposal to BT: open up dark fibre network for rivals

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UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom has called upon BT to open up its dark fibre network dubbed ‘Dark fibre’ for use by rivals in a bid to promote healthy competition in the £2 billion broadband business market.

Dark fibre refers to connections that are not live until an operator connects its equipment to them. Currently, BT already offers leased line products for use by its rivals, but these are bundles of fibre-optic cables and BT’s own network gear. Under the new proposal, BT would have to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, allowing them to take direct control of the connection.

“To ensure that businesses have effective choice, and to encourage competition and innovation, Ofcom is proposing a new requirement on BT – the largest supplier in the market, upon whose network many competitors’ services rely – to supply ‘dark fibre’ in areas outside central London,” Ofcom said on Friday.

the watchdog said its new proposals mean rivals would no longer have to pay for BT’s equipment and that they can put their own equipment at the end of each dedicated fibre line.

Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom Competition Group Director, said “High-speed, fibre optic leased lines are invisible to most people. But they form a critical building block in the UK’s infrastructure that underpins people’s personal and working lives.

“Today’s proposals should help businesses across the UK who rely on high-speed data lines. We want to see more innovation, faster installations and more competition, by providing operators with the opportunity to deploy the technologies of their choice.”

In response, BT said that the current systems are “level and fair” and that new plans would favor only a few big companies to the disadvantage of others. It also said the proposals would undermine investment.

The move was welcomed by BT’s rival network providers.

TalkTalk said “For too long BT has been able to get away with delivering poor service to Britain’s businesses at inflated prices and these recommendations will help drive competition into the commercial market and improve the service they receive.”

Barney Lane, director of regulation at Colt, said “It will help spur innovation and incentivise connectivity providers like Colt to roll-out new services.

“Up until now, alternative connectivity providers haven’t been able to roll out new superfast fibre using the incumbent’s passive infrastructure, so businesses are struggling with outdated, slow connectivity, which is holding them back.”

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, said “CityFibre welcomes Ofcom’s proposal that BT is compelled to make dark fibre available by April 2017 as part of its Business Connectivity Market Review.”

“Dark fibre has been validated worldwide as the only infrastructure platform to deliver cost-effective, future-proof digital connectivity fit for purpose in the decades to come.

“As one of the UK’s largest independent suppliers of fibre infrastructure, CityFibre has long championed making dark fibre widely available in the UK, placing it at the core of our Gigabit City projects in York, Peterborough, Coventry, Aberdeen and Edinburgh over the last three years.”

Ofcom’s proposals are open to consultation until 31 July. The rules that result will take effect in April 2016.