BT could be forced to open up its fibre network to rivals under plans put forward by Ofcom to boost competition in the supply of high-speed data lines to large businesses and public institutions.
Ofcom’s proposals, which are subject to a consultation, would see BT’s Openreach division giving physical access to its fibre-optic cables to competitors who would then install their own equipment at either end of the cable.
This solution is often referred to as “dark fibre, because the cables would not be ‘lit’ using BT’s equipment.
As well as providing dark fibre access outside of London, BT would still be required to provide wholesale access to its network to providers who prefer to resell leased line products.
In a statement Ofcom said: “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.”
Today’s announcement potentially reverses a 2012 Ofcom decision not to force BT to open up its fibre network.
A spokesman for the regulator said the change in position was because “these lines have become increasingly critical to businesses” and that Ofcom “now believe that competition could be dampened if providers don’t have the flexibility they need to deliver services of their choice, at their own pace.”
BT and rivals KCOM and Virgin Media have previously resisted calls to offer “dark fibre” access, arguing that “allowing multiple operators to tamper with the physical network will cause service faults for customers“.
The three telcos have also raised concerns that such a measure could see new entrants cherry picking high value areas to compete in, disincentivising future infrastructure investments.
Commenting on today’s announcement, a BT spokesperson said: “Openreach’s current offer creates a level playing field and a vibrant, competitive market with hundreds of competing companies, large and small.
“Mandating dark fibre risks favouring a few companies that have the greatest capability to deploy it, to the disadvantage of all other firms.
“It will undermine investment – as a number of service providers have warned – and it would also increase costs, divert resources and add more complexity just when we’re beginning to make progress on improving service.”