Ofcom confirms new rules for business networks

28 June 2019

Ofcom has today confirmed final decisions on our reviews of:

  • the physical infrastructure market (access to Openreach’s ducts and poles); and
  • connections that are used by business broadband networks.

Today’s statement sets out how we will regulate these markets for the period to April 2021.

Last month, we submitted a draft of our decisions to the European Commission for consultation. Following its review, while the Commission provided comments, there are no material changes to our final decisions from the draft published in May.

Unrestricted access to Openreach's ducts and poles

Companies laying high-speed fibre cables for broadband and mobile networks will benefit from greater access to Openreach’s existing infrastructure of telegraph poles and underground tunnels, under the decisions confirmed today.

Openreach, which maintains the UK’s main broadband network, is already required to let rival companies use its telegraph poles and underground ‘ducts’ to lay their own fibre networks, under rules set by Ofcom last year.

Until now, this measure – which can cut the upfront cost of building full-fibre networks by around half – has been available to companies focusing on residential and small-business customers. Today, we have extended it to firms serving large businesses, as well as companies laying high-speed lines that support mobile and broadband networks.

Extending access to business networks will allow companies to use Openreach’s infrastructure for all telecoms services, improving the business case for them to invest in cutting-edge, full fibre and 5G networks.

Business Connectivity Market Review

This review looks at ‘leased lines’ – high-speed data connections used by large organisations, which form the backbone of the UK’s mobile and broadband networks.

In areas of the country where Openreach faces limited competition from other leased-line networks, we will continue to regulate what it can charge providers to use these services, keeping prices flat. We have also imposed strict requirements on Openreach for repairs and installations, to ensure high service standards are delivered.

In many areas there are no rival networks present at Openreach’s exchanges. Even with duct and pole access, network competition is unlikely to emerge for connections from these exchanges. Here, Openreach will be required to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, at a price that reflects its costs.

This service is called ‘dark fibre’, because the cables are ‘lit’ by competitors with their own equipment. Introducing dark fibre in only these areas will significantly reduce the cost for mobile and broadband operators to connect their networks, without undermining their incentives to lay new, competing fibre cables where it is economic to do so.

Where there is stronger network competition, or prospective competition, regulation will be lighter than existing rules, to allow this competition to flourish.

2021 wholesale fixed telecoms market review

From 2021, we will regulate business and residential markets together, so companies investing in full fibre can offer a range of services over a common underlying network, serving both homes and businesses. We intend to consult in December on detailed proposals for this single wholesale fixed telecoms market review, covering the period 2026.