UK fibre goals boosted by Ofcom proposals and Openreach discounts

Ofcom is supporting the government’s ambition to ensure the vast majority of the UK can receive ‘full fibre’ broadband by 2033 with a new package of regulations to promote investment.

The regulator has promised that all regulations will last for at least five years, up from the current three-year duration, in a bid to provide certainty for firms wanting to invest in fibre infrastructure.

Other measures include a pledge to regulate business and residential markets together, in recognition that full fibre networks would serve both segments with common infrastructure, and to ensure that BT Openreach’s ducts and poles are available to all communications providers (CPs).

Full fibre regulation

CPs serving the home and SMB markets can currently make use of Openreach’s ducts and poles, but Ofcom wants to ensure those serving large enterprises and offering mobile backhaul services can do so too.

The regulator has also indicated it wants to adopt a more flexible approach to regulation depending on the region in question. For example, it might intervene in an area with fewer fibre providers but exercise a light-touch regime in areas with strong competition.

A consultation on the proposals will now take place, but if enacted, they would appear to support government commitments made in the government’s Future Telecom Infrastructure Review (FTIR), published yesterday.

The FTIR included a series of measures that it hoped would bring full fibre networks to 15 million homes and businesses by 2025 and to the entire UK by 2033. A number of providers, including BT Openreach, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, CityFibre and Gigaclear are already investing in fibre to the premise (FTTP) broadband.

Openreach discounts

Openreach is now offering “significant” discounts of up to 40 per cent on its FTTP and fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) products to CPs, in a bid to boost adoption. Openreach says this will encourage CPs to move more customers over to faster speeds and increase the amount of public funding it can return to local authorities.

As part of the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme which saw BT given government cash to help bring FTTC to areas not considered commercially viable, the company is obligated to return money if adoption exceeds the figure stated in its original business case.

Indeed, Openreach believes the “vast majority” of homes and businesses could be upgraded within five years as a result of its discount. The current figure stands at 10 million properties.

“This offer is a win/win for Communications Providers, their customers and Openreach,” said Openreach CEO Clive Selley. “It will help Britain’s homes and businesses to experience the benefits of faster and more reliable broadband. And it will incentivise our wholesale customers to participate in our long-term investment in digital infrastructure by upgrading more of their customers to superfast and ultrafast services.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.