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Ofcom proposes clampdown on BT over fibre access

UK watchdog may require BT to provide 'dark fibre'.

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Companies providing high-speed telecoms lines for businesses would gain access to BT’s fibre networks under Ofcom proposals.

BT would have to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables so that they could take direct control of the connection, a service known as ‘dark fibre’.

Currently, Ofcom requires BT to offer wholesale leased line products to competitors at regulated prices, bundling the fibre-optic cable and BT’s own network equipment. The new rules would allow competitors to replace BT’s equipment with their own.

Consultation over the proposals will close on 31 July 2015, with final decisions expected in early 2016 and taking effect in April 2016. BT would then be required to publish a draft ‘reference offer’ for industry in mid-2016. This would include wholesale pricing and terms for access.

BT and other providers would negotiate over these to try and publish a final reference offer in 2016. If they cannot agree, Ofcom could intervene to finalise the terms.

The measures come alongside proposals to place minimum quality of service performance requirements on BT’s Openreach due to concerns over unreliability and wait times. Since 2011, the average time between a customer’s order and the line being ready has risen from 40 to 46 working days; Ofcom would require it to be returned to 40 days by 2017.

A second rule would require Openreach to meet its original promised deadlines for installation in 80 percent of cases by 2016 and 90 percent of cases by 2018.

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In other areas, Ofcom has proposed deregulation; it may lift supply and pricing requirements on all but the oldest leased lines services in central London. Ofcom also proposes to remove requirements on BT applying to low-bandwidth leased lines.

Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom Competition Group Director, said: "High-speed, fibre optic leased lines are invisible to most people. But they form a critical building block in the UK’s infrastructure that underpins people’s personal and working lives.

"Today’s proposals should help businesses across the UK who rely on high-speed data lines. We want to see more innovation, faster installations and more competition, by providing operators with the opportunity to deploy the technologies of their choice."

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