Ofcom ignores business needs in 2012 work plan, but hints at an independent Openreach
Mobile and broadband are Ofcom’s key targets for next year, but there is not a word about dark fibre, the product most desired by business network users, in its draft work plan for 2012.
Ofcom said its framework requires BT to provide access to its physical infrastructure (PIA), including sub-loops, ducts and poles, so that other providers have the option of investing in NGA.
It also requires BT to offer virtual unbundled local access (VULA) to its next-generation fibre infrastructure, so that other providers can compete with BT to sell superfast broadband services to consumers.
Both of these statements from Ofcom’s work plan mask serious reservations among business users and would-be competitors to BT.
According to GEO’s chief executive Chris Smedley, the usage restrictions on PIA do not apply to BT, and together double the breakeven period for next generation investments compared to BT’s reported breakeven period.
The Communications Management Association, whose members buy some £13bn of communications goods and services a year, has for years called for Ofcom to insist that BT offer dark fibre, but Ofcom has repeatedly said there is no apparent demand for it.
Ofcom says it may look at dark fibre in its planned review of business access, due late in 2012, but did not mention it in its draft work plan, which is open for public comment.
In the absence of dark fibre, the CMA has called for structural separation of Openreach, BT’s inforastructure division, as the country’s single physical network operator.
However, Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said recently that it would require BT to supply customers with different wavelengths on its fibre rather than the fibre itself.
But in a speech on next generation network investment, Richards held out the prospect of a single converged fibre broadband network that carries voice ‘over the top’.
“This would of course be a significant change for both BT and competitive operators alike and would have to be considered very carefully,” he said.
In the meantime, Ofcom’s priorities for the year include:
- Auctioning and clearing the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands for ‘4G’ mobile use
- Review video on demand regulations
- Make sure the 2012 Olympics has the spectrum it needs
- Enable the copyright provisions of the Digital Economy Act.
Also on the wish list are to promote competition and investment in high speed broadband, business connectivity and voice markets, to ensure consumers can understand what they are buying, make it easier for consumers to switch suppliers, and to see about “regulating content”, which is code for stamping out online piracy and blocking or taking down websites with offensive or illegal material.