Ofcom will “supercharge” investment in fibre broadband, the regulatory body claims, with plans to upgrade the nation’s creaking copper broadband network.
In a list of proposed changes to regulations around Openreach’s infrastructure, Ofcom says it intends to “support competitive investment in fibre networks” as a means to ensure all parts of the UK are connected with fibre broadband.
The proposals map out how Ofcom will regulate BT from 2021 to 2026, including setting Openreach’s wholesale prices at competitive rates in urban areas and supporting Openreach’s investment in laying fibre broadband across sparsely-populated rural areas.
Ageing copper networks are also set to be retired, with plans to remove regulation on Openreach’s copper products in areas where full fibre is built, encouraging BT to switch customers to the newer fibre networks.
“These plans will help fuel a full-fibre future for the whole country,” said Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom interim chief executive in a statement. “We’re removing the remaining roadblocks to investment and supporting competition, so companies can build the networks that will drive the UK into the digital fast lane.”
Full fibre broadband relies on the use of fibre-optic cables – capable of delivering much faster internet speeds – instead of copper cables.
“It’s vital that people and businesses everywhere – whether in rural areas, smaller towns or cities – can enjoy these benefits,” said Oxley. “So we’re making sure companies have the right incentives to accelerate full fibre to every part of the UK.”
Ofcom previously published regulation proposals for BT in 2017, and claims the subsequent investment meant fibre coverage tripled over the course of two years – although the body admits this was from a relatively small starting base.
In a statement sent to Expert Reviews, an Openreach spokesperson called the proposals “a big step in the right direction to give clarity and investment certainty”.
“We’ll consider the range of proposals carefully and will continue to work with Ofcom and industry on getting the conditions right to help achieve the Government’s ambition of rolling out gigabit capable broadband across the UK as soon as possible.”
Broadband was a major talking point in 2019’s general election. Labour said it would nationalise the parts of BT that maintain the UK’s internet infrastructure, including Openreach, and roll out fibre broadband across the country.
The UK lags behind other countries when it comes to full fibre coverage. According to the OECD, it is 35th out of 37 countries for the proportion of fibre in its broadband infrastructure.