Openreach: Comms providers 'welcome' our full-fibre 'ambition'

Duh. It's better than sweating the heck out of copper and aluminium for another decade

Openreach reckons its 580 communications providers "have welcomed the ambition" to increase the UK's woeful fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) coverage. However, some folk remain less impressed.

As revealed by The Register in August, Openreach has estimated it will need to fork out between £3bn and £6bn to invest in 10 million FTTP connections in the UK by 2025, according to a leaked copy of the document.

Openreach and BT have repeatedly come under fire for not investing more in full-fibre broadband. The current penetration is just 2 per cent.

In a press release this week, Openreach said it believes the costs should be spread fairly across a broad customer base. "This would help to keep down any wholesale price increases required to support the investment case, whilst CPs and Openreach would benefit from cost savings through the increased reliability of the network.

"CPs acknowledge that charging a large premium for ultrafast services alone is unlikely to succeed, but question how much more customers will be willing to pay for the same headline speeds on a better platform."

Openreach proposes communication providers commit to moving "the entire Openreach customer base" to fibre in the areas identified, which would mean customers paying an additional £7 per month.

However, some have pointed out that forcing CPs to commit their entire customer base could lock them further into BT.

Clive Selley, Openreach CEO, said: "We believe that under the right conditions, we could build FTTP connections to 10 million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s. We want to do it, we think it's the right thing to do for the UK, but it's clear that we can't do it alone, so I'm encouraged to hear that our wholesale customers support our vision.

"Having said that, we're under no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead because we need to build a business case that's workable and fair for everyone. That means we need a regulatory environment that encourages investment, and we need to agree how the costs of such a huge engineering project can be recovered fairly from all those that stand to benefit."

Since Openreach's legal separation from BT, Selley has been keen to emphasise the broadband division's "collaborative" role with its providers. The division had previously been accused of putting the interests of BT above CPs.

Chris Pateman, CEO the Federation of Communication Services, said: "This is an Openreach consultation. So it's no great surprise it contains a number of Openreach assumptions.

"Of course business has welcomed Openreach's ambition to build a large-scale FTTP network. Why wouldn't it? After all, it's spent the last 10 years bemoaning Openreach's ambition to sweat the hell out of copper and aluminium."

One contact, who asked not to be named, said some service providers are "less keen" than the BT press release suggests – particularly with regards to migrating all their customers across.

Malcolm Corbett, director at the Independent Networks Cooperative Association, said his members welcomed Openreach joining the drive to replace the UK's "ageing copper network" with future-proofed full-fibre and wireless connections.

"It is a very big job that requires cooperation between all industry players." He estimated that alternative network providers will will deliver 5m full fibre connections in urban and rural areas.

Openreach said it is now considering all of the responses to its consultation and will invite views from CPs on a more specific set of proposals that cover potential pricing, footprint, and a plan for automatic switchover, by the end of 2017. ®


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