Ofcom proposes geographic regulation for wholesale market

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Ofcom is proposing to regulate the wholesale fixed broadband market on a geographical basis from the start of the next decade in a bid to expand the UK’s fibre footprint.

Rather than using a ‘one size fits all approach’ across the entirety of the UK, different regulations would apply to different parts of the country depending on the level of competition and commercial potential.

Openreach’s fixed infrastructure is currently the dominant player in the wholesale market, with BT retail, TalkTalk and Sky among those whose broadband services are powered by the network. It is also an important provider of backhaul services to mobile operators.

Ofcom geographic regulation

However, a number of other operators, including TalkTalk and CityFibre, are looking to build national networks to compete for this business. Virgin Media is also embarking on its own network expansion.

Meanwhile, the government has stated its desire for ‘full fibre’ to be the default technology in network deployment with a view to switching off the UK’s copper infrastructure in the 2030s, while 5G networks will need fibre connectivity to facilitate densification.

It is these developments that are helping to influence this shift in regulatory approach.

In competitive areas where there re at least two existing alternatives to Openreach, Ofcom would look to deregulate. In potentially competitive areas with at least one alternative, Ofcom would promote investment and entry into the market, while in non-competitive areas its focus would be on protecting consumers from high prices.

Any change will be some way off, however. Ofcom will consult in late 2019 after it has received deployment plans from major operators and the earliest the new regulations will come into effect will be the Spring of 2021. To guarantee certainty for investors, they will be in place for at least five years.