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Openreach renews calls for industry whip-round to build FTTP network

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If we want fibre to the premises throughout the UK everyone needs to chip in, including wholesale customers and the state, says Openreach.

In an announcement entitled ‘Industry welcomes Openreach ambition to build a large FTTP broadband network’, the semi-independent fixed-line wholesale arm of BT revealed its recent consultation seemed to go well. Everyone agrees FTTP would be great, but inevitably opinion is divided about who should pay for it.

In principle the return on network investment comes from charging more for improved services, but we’re in an era when people seem to expect constant upgrades without resulting price increases, so Openreach is struggling to see where the ROI is going to come from. The answer is to spread the investment risk, according to Openreach, which was also beating this drum at BBWF last week.

“We believe that under the right conditions, we could build FTTP connections to ten million homes and businesses by the mid-2020s,” said Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach. “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.

“Of course that’s going to be tough, but we need to get into the detail of that now with our customers, with Ofcom and with Government. I believe Openreach has a critical role to play in achieving such an ambitious goal, and the prize for our CP customers, their customers and the UK as a whole could be huge.”

The phrase ‘support our vision’ seems to be deliberately nuanced. Openreach’s wholesale customers like the idea of full FTTP but, according to the report, only some are interested in chipping-in, but even then only in return for preferential access. Openreach reckons the whole gig would cost three-to-six billion quid and will come back to customers and Openreach with some more specific proposals on how to go about it before the end of the year.

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