Spain looks ahead to lifting all fibre access rules

Spain’s telecom regulator has lifted fibre access regulations in a large swathe of the country and is looking ahead to the possibility of an entirely rule-free set-up in just a few years.

To put it simply, Spain has built out a pretty mature fibre broadband market.

The CNMC has updated rules on wholesale access to fibre-optic networks that were set out in 2016. Back then there were 66 municipalities in Spain that were categorised as competitive in fibre terms, that is, with a choice of fibre access networks. That number has now risen to 696, which equates to 70% of the country’s population. Each of those municipalities has at least three next-generation access (NGA) networks with coverage of 20% or more, and Telefonica’s retail broadband market share is below 50%.

Credit where it’s due, that’s a lot of competition. Many other European markets are seeing growth in competitive operators rolling out their own fibre – barely a week passes in the UK without a niche FTTH provider announcing plans to cover a certain area, for example – but Spain is ahead of the pack.

And its figures show that competition is driving growth. According to CNMC data, there were close to 12 million FTTH lines in Spain last year, up from 3.1 million in 2015; proportionately, FTTH lines grew to 75% of total broadband connections from 23% over the same period.

“These figures show that Spain is a leading European country both in coverage and in penetration of FTTH fibre connections,” the CNMC said.

Indeed. Spain currently ranks second in Europe in terms of FTTH/B penetration at 70.6%, according to the FTTH Council Europe’s 2021 figures. Only Belarus comes in higher. By 2026 the industry body predicts Spain and France will be tied for first place with penetration rates of 86.2%.

The CNMC is also optimistic about the future.

“Within three years, the CNMC will assess whether it needs to review the zones considered “non-competitive” or even withdraw the regulation on wholesale access to optical fibre network throughout the country,” it said.

As it stands, there are 7,453 municipalities in the non-competitive zone, although, as mentioned above, they account for less than a third of the population.

The regulatory change is good news for Telefonica, which is no longer obliged to provide rivals with access to its network in the competitive zone. However, the CNMC was careful to point out that it is still required to provide duct and pole access throughout Spain.

The move should also be an encouraging sign to incumbent operators elsewhere in Europe, many of whom have dragged their heels on fibre deployment due to concerns over being forced to provide access to rivals.

“The Commission seeks a balance between ensuring competition and promoting investment in next-generation access (NGA) networks – those that allow very high speed Internet connections – mainly optical fibre,” the CNMC said.

It appears to have found that balance.


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