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UKCTA urges Ofcom to improve BT Openreach performance

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The UK Competitive Telecommunications Association (UKCTA) has published a series of reports calling the country’s regulator Ofcom to review the communications market. It claimed there is confusion over the role of BT Openreach, BT’s network division, and businesses feel Openreach is a restrictive force in terms of choice in the market.

The three reports, prepared for the UKCTA by electronic communications strategy, policy and economics consultancy SPC Network, have identified three specific areas it sees needing a review.

Firstly the reports stated Ofcom needs to balance its focus and once again prioritise the promotion of competition. UKCTA, which represents many providers including EE, Vodafone, Sky and TalkTalk, said Ofcom’s focus has shifted from originally driving competition through price caps and other measures to intrusive sector-specific consumer protection measures.

Secondly the reports said Openreach, which controls and maintains the basic infrastructure most UK operators rely on, has consistently failed to meet its own targets for service delivery and must improve. It was also claimed Openreach’s primary focus on residential customers have led to worse deal for businesses.

Finally, UKCTA called for BT’s passive infrastructure to be opened up to all providers to lay their own cables in BT ducts, claiming as long as the incumbent has control of the basic networking hardware competition and innovation will be stifled.

“Thirty years ago we saw the start of a new era in the UK telecommunications market,” Domhnall Dods from UKCTA said. “Although increased competition now helps manage the issues of pricing and consumer protection in today’s broadband market, the greater issue of BT’s market dominance remains.

“We believe Ofcom and its new CEO should review its agenda and target the root causes of this remaining market power, including the way the core BT platform is regulated. The UK’s consumers and businesses cannot afford for Ofcom to ignore the problems identified in these reports.”

BT has rejected claims it has too strong a hold of the UK’s market. “This is a regular consultation that takes place every three years. Other companies have lobbied in the past for passive remedies but they were dismissed by Ofcom,” a spokesperson told Telecoms.com.

“The UK has a vibrant wholesale business connectivity market, with strong competition and innovation amongst a large number of providers. In fact, Ofcom’s latest data [published on 8 October] clearly shows growing competition, which if anything supports the case for further deregulation.

“We believe that forcing Openreach to offer access to its ducts or dark fibre would increase costs and add extra complexity to way UK businesses are served. Regarding service, Openreach is voluntarily publishing our service performance and this reflects our commitment to improving service.”

The calls for a focus change for Ofcom certainly come at good time as the organisation is going through a change with its Chief Executive Ed Richards standing down at the end of this year. This seems to provide a natural opportunity for the regulator to re-weigh its priorities- of course provided it will be able to fill the leadership position, which currently remains open.

Update, November 24, 2.32 pm: since first publishing, Ofcom spokesperson got in touch to give provide this comment: “We make no apology for protecting consumers. For us, that work goes hand-in-hand with promoting competition. The UK already has the most competitive broadband market of any major European country. Our job is to ensure that customers benefit not only from innovation, but also from good quality of service and a fair deal.”


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