UK communications regulator Ofcom has issued a number of decisions designed to promote competition and investment in super-fast broadband services across the UK, stating that there is "a long way to go" to deliver the networks of the future that the UK needs.
Ofcom plans to allow competitors to have access to a dedicated virtual link over new fibre lines laid by BT ("virtual unbundling"), giving other service providers control of the lines to provide super-fast broadband services to their own customers. BT will be able to set prices for these new wholesale products which should promote investment by enabling them to make a "fair rate of return" which reflects commercial risk. These prices will be contrained by the wider broadband market and will be subject to rules to prevent anti-competitive pricing.
Ofcom has also ruled that BT should be required to offer access to its underground ducts and to its telegraph poles to its competitors, allowing them to roll-out super-fast broadband to areas where BT does not plan to deploy its fibre network, and to target specific areas earlier than BT's roll-out. The regulator adds that the economic case for duct and pole access (as opposed to digging up trenches) should improve as the market for super-fast broadband develops.
BT will be required to share detailed information with other service providers about issues such as available capacity and the quality of ducts and poles. Ofcom has also confirmed that it will require BT to make a draft reference offer describing its duct and pole product available by the middle of January 2011.
“The development of the UK’s super-fast broadband future is well underway with the roll-out of services in large parts of the country," said Ed Richards, Chief Executive of Ofcom. "Today Ofcom has finalised a clear regulatory framework to promote investment, competition and innovation to enable as many consumers as possible to benefit from these exciting new services.”
BT has already started rolling out its fibre-based broadband network, based on a mixture of Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) and Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC), and reportedly aims to connect two-thirds of the UK to the new network by 2015.
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