Openreach launches consultations on broadband future

(ShareCast News) – Openreach, the division of BT that operates the bulk of the UK’s copper telephone and fibre broadband lines, announced on Thursday that it would consult with its communications provider customers on “how to best enhance” broadband connectivity across Britain.

The move came after a slew of regulatory announcements concerning the business in recent weeks, including Ofcom confirming it wanted to open up Openreach’s poles and ducts to other operators, and the Advertising Standards Authority investigating the use of the term ‘fibre broadband’, when most fibre connections still relied on the copper network. The BT unit said it would seek customer input on two “major policy issues” for the UK – building the investment case for a large-scale ‘full fibre’ network and bringing faster broadband speeds to so-called ‘not-spots’ which could only order broadband with speeds of less than 10 Mbps at present.

“Openreach has already stated its ambition to make ultrafast speeds of more than 100Mbps available to 12 million homes and businesses by the end of 2020,” it said in its statement.

“However, the business is keen to explore conditions which might allow it to invest in more ‘full fibre’ – fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – infrastructure.”

The consultation would look at the demand for FTTP, the potential benefits and costs of a larger scale FTTP deployment, and the enablers needed to support investment. Openreach said it was currently in a scoping phase and anticipated launching a formal consultation in the summer.

“We are committed to continuing our investment in the infrastructure Britain needs to support our thriving digital economy,” said chief executive Clive Selley.

“We want to work closely with communications providers to explore how we do that.”

Selley said, with the right conditions, Openreach could make full fibre connections available to as many as 10 million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s, but it needed to understand if there was sufficient demand to justify the roll-out, and support across industry, Ofcom and government for the enablers needed to build a viable business case. Openreach also launched a second consultation on the next steps for an emerging broadband technology called long reach VDSL, which it said had been proven to increase broadband speeds over longer copper phone lines connected to its fibre cabinets. It said the technology could help to deliver universal broadband coverage in line with the government’s policy objectives set out in the Digital Economy Act, which seeked to give everybody in the UK the right to request a broadband speed of at least 10Mbps.

“By the end of this year, 95% of the UK is expected to have access to superfast broadband speeds of 24Mbps and above, and as of today, just three per cent of the country cannot order a service offering 10Mbps or faster according to independent analysis by Thinkbroadband,” Openreach claimed.

The consultation process would enable Openreach to determine the best ways to deploy long reach VDSL technology with providers, to optimise the benefits for customers and to help the Government’s objective of delivering universal connectivity in the UK. Finally, Openreach also announced changes to the way it plans to engage with industry. They included a “confidential process” that would allow its communications provider customers the opportunity to discuss new strategic initiatives privately with Openreach, prior to any potential public consultation.

“The moves form part of Openreach’s preparation for greater functional separation from BT Group, its parent company, alongside the creation of an independent board structure and commitments to improve standards for customer service.

“It is hoped that more private discussions with communications providers will lead to greater openness and collaboration across the communications industry and result in better outcomes for connected homes, businesses and people throughout Britain,” the board said.

Openreach said it had been working closely with customers, the regulator Ofcom, and the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator to define the new collaboration processes, and it had now shared those proposals with the industry to seek views and improvements.

“Everyone in Britain should have access to a decent broadband speed – so we support the Government’s moves to make that a reality,” Clive Selley commented.

“We’ve been working hard to develop faster, affordable ways to connect remote locations and we’ve been pleased with the initial technical field results of our long reach VDSL trials, but we need communications providers’ support to make sure their customers can be upgraded and migrated smoothly to this new platform.

“Every communications provider in Britain can already access our national network on equal terms and conditions and I’m convinced that providing a mechanism to explore investment opportunities confidentially will lead to stronger relationships and more teamwork in addressing the major challenges we face as an industry.”

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