British consumers should have a choice of providers for full fibre broadband services, said the UK telecoms regulator at an industry event in London
The UK requires an open and competitive regulatory environment to facilitate the growth and development of competing full fibre networks, according to senior figures at Ofcom.
Speaking exclusively at The Great Telco Debate on Wednesday, Ofcom’s director of strategy, Clive Carter, said that the UK’s fibre industry was attracting record levels of investment.
"It’s a tremendous time to be involved in fibre. There is an enormous appetite for investing in fibre infrastructure right across the UK," he said.
Hyperoptic, CityFibre and Gigaclear have all attracted investments in excess of £100 million in the last twelve months, as investors look to get fibre into the ground as quickly as possible to ensure a timely return on investment.
Carter said that conditions in the UK are particularly favourable at the moment, and that recent policy rulings by Ofcom should help to streamline the process of laying fibre.
"The cost of rolling out fibre to the home (FTTH) is coming down all the time, with the figures suggesting that it can be less than £500 per property in the UK, and as little as 200 euros per property in some markets in Europe," he added.
"We want all parties to be able to invest. That means ensuring that Openreach has a business case, that the altnets have a business case and that Virgin Media has a business case. For us, that means ensuring there is a level playing field – In the UK context, that means opening up access to Orpenreach’s ducts and poles, providing an economicaly level playing field for the cost of deployment."
Carter said that, ultimately, Ofcom wanted to create the conditions to enable multiple, independantly owned full fibre networks to compete with each other across the country.
"In the UK, we want to see multiple, competing [full fibre] networks in the vast majority of the UK. Why do we want that? Why is the idea of nationalisation and a single monopoly bad? I think what has been shown right across Europe is that competition is what drives investment. Its the risk and fear that someone else is going to come along and eat your lunch that pushes you to invest and innovate. The risk of being left behind and that your investors will see you sitting on what they consider to be a legacy, sunk, redundant asset base – that is what keeps pushing you forward. That doesn’t just apply today – fibre is not a one shot game. There will be further innovation and opportunity to invest further down the line," he said.
This call was echoed by the World Communication Awards’ CEO of the year, Dana Tobak, during her keynote address later in the day. The Hyperoptic CEO said that British people had a right to expect a choice of full fibre broadband provider, just as they would for any other essential utility.
"People don’t really think of the possibility of needing two water lines or two separate electricity lines coming into their house. But i can tell you, as someone with a fully connected house and a fully connected life, that I am interested in having multiple connectivity options coming into my home. In fact, I already have it today. I have a mobile and I have fixed. Tomorrow, maybe I will have two separate fixed and two separate mobiles. There is no need and no benefit to picking only one provider. That is only an inhibitor to progress," she said.
Ultimately, the UK’s push towards FTTH rollout will succeed or fail according to the ability of the country’s key stakeholders to work together in an efficient and focussed manner. Closing the session, Mike Magee, sector director for transport at SSE Enterprise Telecoms, said that this was the key message for the UK’s connectivity sector to heed.
"For me it is incredibly simple. Full fibre rollout across the UK will only happen if government, the regulator, all utility providers and all communication providers look to work together and collaborate in a practical sense, rather than just talking about it," he said.