Ofcom proposes opening BT’s dark fibre up to rival ISPs

As part of its latest Business Connectivity Market Review, Ofcom has proposed that, contrary to its previous stance, rival ISPs should be granted access to BT’s dark fibre network.

Dark fibre is simply fibre which has been laid, but isn’t currently in use (no light pulses are being sent down it, so it’s unlit or ‘dark’), and Ofcom believes giving rival service providers access – letting them take direct control of the connection – would promote healthy competition in the leased line market.

Currently, ISPs can avail themselves of BT’s wholesale leased line products to sell on to customers, but they have to use the telecom giant’s own network hardware – the difference with the new suggested scheme of things is that rivals would be able to bring in their own networking equipment, and no longer be reliant on BT’s.

That would give ISPs more scope when it comes to their leased line offerings and subsequent pricing, and make for a more competitive marketplace.

Note that Ofcom’s proposing this change for the UK, with one exception – namely central London.

Ofcom addresses some other issues in the review, and also tables minimum quality of service performance requirements for Openreach, which it says is often guilty of taking too much time to install a leased line, with install dates being put back too regularly for the watchdog’s liking.

Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom Competition Group Director, commented: “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.”

Ofcom’s proposals will be mulled over with a consultation period set to run until the end of July, with a final decision on the move to be made in Q1 of 2016.

UPDATE: Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, commented: "CityFibre welcomes Ofcom’s proposal that BT is compelled to make dark fibre available by April 2017 as part of its Business Connectivity Market Review (BCMR)

"Dark fibre has been validated worldwide as the only infrastructure platform to deliver cost-effective, future-proof digital connectivity fit for purpose in the decades to come. As one of the UK’s largest independent suppliers of fibre infrastructure, CityFibre has long championed making dark fibre widely available in the UK, placing it at the core of our Gigabit City projects in York, Peterborough, Coventry, Aberdeen and Edinburgh over the last three years.

"While CityFibre welcomes Ofcom’s decision as a clear validation of our business model, we urge it in the strongest possible terms to ensure that any future approach to pricing in no way distorts the market or discourages investment by independent infrastructure builders.

"The task of redressing the legacy of decades of underinvestment in the UK for fibre infrastructure is too large and important to be left to solely one monopoly provider, and the role of smaller, entrepreneurial players must not be underestimated or undervalued.

"It is essential that a pro-investment environment, which preserves supplier diversity and encourages network competition, be established and safeguarded for decades to come."