UK regulator Ofcom wants BT to offer dark fiber

Ofcom, the UK telecommunications regulatory authority, proposed May 15 that BT offer competitors access to its fiber-optic network infrastructure in areas outside of central London. If approved, the proposal would compel BT to offer dark fiber services in April 2017.

Ofcom, the UK telecommunications regulatory authority, proposed May 15 that BT offer competitors access to its fiber-optic network infrastructure in areas outside of central London. If approved, the proposal would compel BT to offer dark fiber services in April 2017.

The proposal comes after Ofcom reported the results of a "Business Connectivity Market Review." The regulator also slapped Openreach, the division of BT that installs and maintains connections to BT's network on behalf of competing providers, for being too slow to roll out business services and offered proposals aimed at improving Openreach's performance.

The dark fiber order aims to promote competition and innovation in leased-line service provision. In addition to promoting competition for business services provision, Ofcom notes that dark fiber could be of use to schools, universities, libraries, and other public institutions. The new order would not be enforced in central London because Ofcom believes sufficient competition exists there to make the dark fiber services unnecessary.

Ofcom already requires BT to offer wholesale leased line products, including lit services. That mandate would remain in place.

Speaking of wholesale leased lines, Ofcom has concluded that Openreach "often takes too long to install leased lines, and too often changes the date on which it promises to deliver services." For example, the regulator asserts that since 2011, the average time between a customer's order and the line being ready has increased from 40 to 46 working days. Therefore, Ofcom has mandated that Openreach achieve an average time to service of 40 working days by 2017, and maintain it thereafter.

Meanwhile, Ofcom also says that in 2014, Openreach completed only about 50% of leased line installations on the initial date promised to its customer. Therefore, Ofcom has charged Openreach to meet the original targeted in-service dates in 80% of cases by 2016, and 90% by 2018.

The proposals are subject to a consultation period that ends July 31, 2015. Ofcom expects to publish its final decisions in the first quarter of 2016, which would take effect in April 2016. Ofcom says it will then require BT to publish a draft dark fiber "reference offer" in mid-2016 that includes wholesale pricing and terms for access. BT and other providers would then negotiate based on this reference offer, with a goal of a final reference offer appearing before the end of the year. BT would then make dark fiber available to other service providers starting in April 2017.

Ofcom says it is prepared to step in if BT and its potential customers can't agree on dark fiber lease terms.

BT does not appear thrilled with the prospect, judging by reports. For example, the London Telegraph quoted an unnamed BT source as saying, "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."

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