Openreach scraps dark fibre access plans after court ruling

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

Judges sitting on a Competition Appeals Tribunal last month said Ofcom had "erred" with its dark fibre rules, and now BT's Openreach has said it has no intention to launch DFA by October

Openreach has axed plans to trial Dark Fibre Access later this month following a Competition Appeals Tribunal ruling that halted Ofcom’s dark fibre plans.

Judges sitting on CAT unanimously found that Ofcom had “erred” on its dark fibre rules, meaning that an obligation for Openreach to launch DFA in October was removed.

The regulator had ordered BT to introduce a “dark fibre” product allowing rivals to access unlit fibre lines used for ultrafast business broadband products and Ethernet cables to connect phone masts.

In doing so Ofcom has said that they hope to stimulate competition, investment and improved broadband coverage for consumers. Access to dark fibre would allow operators such as Vodafone, Three and others, to install their own equipment, rather than paying to use Openreach kit. 

The Competition Appeals Tribunal said that Ofcom made an error in it definitions of the UK business market and Ofcom will have to launch a re-assessment of the business market in order to implement its proposals, leading to Openreach axing its plans.

In a note sent to other communications service providers, Openreach said it does not “intend launch DFA on 1 October 2017 or notify launch pricing at the end of August/early September 2017. We’ll issue formal communications to CPs over the coming days.”

Openreach confirmed this to GTB, with a spokesperson for the BT-owned ifrastructure firm explaining: “Given the ruling, and after discussions between Ofcom and various parties involved, Openreach won’t be launching a Dark Fibre product on 1 October 2017. 

“We’ve been working closely with our Communications Provider customers for over a year to develop this product, and we remain keen to discuss alternatives that could meet their needs. 

“We wanted to communicate this as soon as possible to allow them to make suitable plans.”

CityFibre, an alternative dark fibre provider operating in the UK, said the decision from Openreach was not surprising, given the lack of legal basis behind it following the CAT’s ruling.

Mark Collins, director of strategy and public affairs at CityFibre, said: “As one of the UK’s largest suppliers of dark fibre infrastructure, CityFibre’s growth and proven ability to attract investment, demonstrates that the competitive market for business connectivity, including commercial supply of dark fibre, is alive and well and not in need of disproportionate and unnecessary regulatory interference.

“Rather than continuing to drive increased dependency on Openreach, we suggest that Ofcom goes back to the drawing board to focus on delivering more appropriate and proportionate remedies that help meet its own strategic objectives to support increased competitive investment in full fibre for the UK.”

Ofcom said it still supports dark fibre, with a spokesperson saying: "Ofcom spokesperson: “Once we have the Tribunal’s reasoning, we will know how best to proceed in order to protect competition and consumers. We continue to believe that dark fibre can bring significant benefits for businesses and consumers.”