FTTH to pass half of UK households in March

The UK’s full-fibre rollout is rumbling along rapidly, according to Ofcom, which praised altnets for their contribution.

According to forecasts published by the telco watchdog late last week, fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks are on course to pass 50% of UK households in March, up from 42% at the end of September last year. Based on its current data, it expects full-fibre to pass 80 percent of households within the next two years. That’s a big improvement on five years ago, when only 6% of households were within reach of full fibre networks, Ofcom said.

“There’s still a lot of work to do to bring faster connections to all parts of the country, but progress in recent years has been rapid,” said Lindsay Fussell, group director of network and communications at Ofcom, in a statement on Friday.

Stats aside, the announcement served as an opportunity for Ofcom to reiterate that it has yet to decide whether to approve Equinox 2, the Hollywood-sounding name of Openreach’s proposed changes to wholesale prices.

From April, BT’s networks arm wants to lower the rates for access to its FTTP network, but make retail ISPs commit to longer contracts. Openreach’s argument is that Equinox 2 will drive uptake by lowering the cost of full-fibre broadband services. That idea has some merit, given Ofcom itself highlighted late last year that uptake is considerably lagging availability.

However, some altnets, particularly CityFibre, are understandably irked by Openreach’s proposals. They argue that the incumbent is using its scale to undercut rivals and lock in ISPs, making it much harder for them to compete.

Ofcom is currently consulting on Equinox 2, and isn’t due to issue a decision until the end of March. Nonetheless, on Friday it highlighted the significant role that competition has played in fibre network expansion.

“The numbers speak for themselves. These challenger firms are doubling their collective footprint each year, and together they expect to reach 11.5m homes by the end of this year. Investment in independent broadband builders is strong, and expected to reach £17 billion by 2025,” Fussell said.

“For Ofcom, the alternative networks to Openreach provide a vital part of our strategy for better broadband. They help form the engine room of the UK’s digital infrastructure,” she added.

The regulator also emphasised the importance of keeping tabs on Openreach, and reminded everyone that Ofcom’s Openreach Monitoring Unit (OMU) is due to publish its latest compliance report in June.

“If we see evidence of any company acting in a way that distorts or prevents competition, we won’t hesitate to step in,” said Fussell. “Competition is the force that is driving better broadband for everyone. By promoting it, and keeping it fair and effective, we can help secure the UK’s digital future.”

These statements may prove to be Ofcom paying little more than lip service to altnets. Or, they might just suggest that a decision on whether Equinox 2 gets the go-ahead is not quite cut and dried.


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