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Watchdog urges BT to open up network to competitors

BT should open up its network of telegraph poles, underground ducts and new fibre lines to competitors under Ofcom plans announced today to promote super-fast broadband in the UK.

The telecoms regulator outlined proposals for BT to allow competitors such as TalkTalk and Sky to have access to its fibre lines that are currently being developed, which Ofcom hopes would speed up the introduction of faster broadband services.

BT should also give other providers physical access to its underground ducts and overhead telegraph poles to lay their own fibre lines after discovering there was a "significant" amount of unused space in its network.

Ofcom found that up to 40% or 50% of BT's duct network had room for new cables, while there was also the potential for wires to be added to its telegraph poles in some areas.

The watchdog is also proposing to slap price controls on BT for broadband access in some areas where it is the only provider via its copper-based wired network.

Ofcom hopes the measure will protect households against uncompetitive pricing after finding around 14% of UK premises only had access to BT broadband services.

The pricing controls would largely impact rural areas where access is often only through BT copper lines.

But these are only related to wholesale costs as BT said it charges retail customers the same price nationwide, regardless of where they live.

Ofcom's plans would allow BT to charge for access to its fibre and physical network without introducing a limit, as it said this would be constrained by the wider competitive market.

BT will have three months from when Ofcom publishes its final report in the autumn to give an idea of how it intends to charge and offer access to its underground ducts.

Ofcom's chief executive Ed Richards said: "Super-fast broadband is starting to be a reality in the UK, with very significant advances in recent months in the speeds some providers are offering.

"Ofcom's proposed regulatory framework is intended to support the next phase of development by promoting investment, competition and innovation for consumers across the UK."

BT said it already offered access to its new fibre lines to other providers, but added it was willing to open up its ducts.

The group said: "We agree with Ofcom that there are challenges with such access, but we will work with industry to define a suitable product that meets everyone's needs.

"Duct access is unlikely to be the 'silver bullet' to get fibre to the countryside, but all options should be explored."