Ofcom confirms new broadband regulation, as DCMS finalises USO design

29 Mar 2018

British telecoms regulator Ofcom has published final statements on its reviews of the wholesale local access market and quality of service remedies for wholesale line rental (WLR), MPF and Generic Ethernet Access (GEA) services.

In a press release Ofcom said the new rules, which are designed to ‘further increase investment in full-fibre broadband networks, and drive improvements in the quality of Openreach’s service’, will apply from 1 April 2018. The main measures include a requirement that BT must make its telegraph poles and underground tunnels open to rival providers, making it quicker and easier for them to build their own full-fibre networks directly to households around the UK. In addition, Ofcom has confirmed that it will not regulate the pricing for Openreach’s fastest wholesale broadband products, including its new pure fibre offerings, arguing this will incentivise other operators to build fibre infrastructure. The third key measure is the reduction of the wholesale price that Openreach can charge operators for its entry-level superfast broadband service; the maximum charge for the plan, which offers speeds of 40Mbps/10Mbps down/uplink, has been set at GBP12.06 (USD17.05) per month. Finally, the new rules also include stricter requirements on Openreach to repair faults and install new broadband lines more quickly.

Meanwhile, in separate but related news, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has published its chosen design for the new Universal Service Obligation (USO), after considering responses to an earlier consultation on the matter. Having considered the feedback, the DCMS has confirmed it will move ahead with implementing the USO by 2020. The core elements of the USO include: a minimum download speed of 10Mbps; additional quality parameters which include a 1Mbps upload speed, minimum standards for latency, a maximum contention ratio of 50:1, and a minimum data cap of 100GB per month; uniform pricing, so as to ensure that people connected under the USO do not pay more for their broadband than others pay for comparable services in non-USO areas; and a cost threshold of GBP3,400 per premise. In addition, it has been confirmed that while fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), fixed-wireless and mobile technologies can all be utilised to deliver universal broadband services, the DCMS has said that satellite technology may not, ‘based on its current capabilities’.

According to the DCMS, there have been expressions of interest from some smaller market players in being designated as Universal Service Providers (USPs), and these have reportedly been passed to Ofcom to consider. In terms of arrangements for monitoring and reporting the progress of the USO, this will be done through Ofcom’s ‘Connected Nations’ reports, with the first review of the specification set to take place ‘at least as soon as the Digital Economy Act 2017 trigger of 75% UK premises take-up of 30Mbps broadband has been reached’.

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