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Challenges Remain as Openreach Improve UK Cable Duct and Pole Access UPDATE

Monday, March 11th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 4,226
openreach engineer pulling cable

Last week saw Openreach (BT) publish a Final Reference Offer for their revised Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product, which is intended to make it cheaper and easier for UK ISPs to deploy their own “full fibre” broadband networks via existing cable ducts and poles. But some challenges remain.

Openreach have been offering a PIA solution for ISPs to access and use their physical infrastructure for several years already, although few seemed to be happy with the old model. Many of those that did take it for a spin would complain it was cumbersome (administration) to use and suffered from awkward costs.

The old approach was also more intended for helping to connect residential homes, which meant that using it to provide leased line style rural backhaul or big business connectivity wasn’t possible, even though this helps alternative network (AltNet) ISPs to build a more economically viable model.

Ofcom’s 2016 Strategic Review deal with BT set out to resolve all this via an enhanced Duct and Pole Access (DPA) approach. At the start of 2018 they followed that by telling Openreach (here) to make sure their ducts were “ready for use” (i.e. repairing faults or relieving congested sections), delivered better rentals, improved information sharing (e.g. digital maps), offered more efficient operational processes and supported mixed usage (i.e. ISPs can deploy local access networks offering both broadband and non-broadband services, provided the primary purpose of the network is the delivery of broadband).

Openreach followed this up in August 2018 with the publication of their first Draft Reference Offer for a revised PIA product, although at the time it was still lacking several of the required changes (here). However the operator has now published their Final Reference Offer (PDF) ahead of the product launch. As a result we’ve spoken to several alternative network (altnet) ISPs to get their views on this version.

Overall the ISPs welcome Openreach’s improvements but they also point to a number of problem areas and some question whether it will deliver the necessary improvement to “full fibre” roll-outs across the UK. Sadly only Cityfibre was able to offer a public comment but we’ve summarised some of the general feedback below.

Greg Mesch, CEO of Cityfibre, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Duct and Pole Access (DPA) was an intervention created to increase the speed and decrease the cost at which competitors to BT Openreach could deploy their networks. While BT Openreach’s DPA product holds some promise, it will not currently increase the speed at which CityFibre can deploy, or reduce our costs of doing so.

We are working closely with BT Openreach and Ofcom to refine this product but there remains a long way to go before it is fit for purpose. It has not been designed for competitors like us that are planning and rolling out city-wide deployments at scale. As a tool it is fragmented, restrictive and inefficient – currently it is unusable throughout the whole of Scotland.

While we remain heavily involved in helping to improve and shape DPA, it is also critical to recognise that fundamentally DPA remains a product operated by a competitor. Until BT Openreach is obliged to reserve access for its own fibre roll-outs through the same product and is made to jump through the same hoops as challengers, DPA will remain a fundamentally non-equivalent proposition and its full potential to accelerate competitive rollouts unrealised.”

Experiences differ between the ISPs as not all follow the same approach, yet there were some areas of shared concern. For example, most agreed that the Network Adjustment process (i.e. where Openreach are required to make their network useable in specific permitted circumstances) was still too “clunky” or “inefficient“.

Similarly, on the issue of Scotland highlighted above by Cityfibre, this reflects the complex clash of wayleave (land access) agreements. Essentially many of Openreach’s PIA assets (poles etc.) are located on private land and as such the ISPs would require a wayleave to access the infrastructure itself. Realistically this may not be within Openreach’s power to resolve.

Since the draft version, Openreach has also introduced some limited Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Guarantees (SLGs) to PIA, although among the larger ISPs there’s a feeling that these still need to be improved so as to make the product more predictable and give them confidence to adopt it at scale.

An Openreach Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Like the government and Ofcom, we recognise the importance of full fibre infrastructure competition. So whilst we’re scaling up and building, we’ll also be helping others to build by having access to our ducts and poles.

Since publishing our draft reference offer for Passive Infrastructure Access (PIA) in August 2018, we’ve worked closely with our customers and wider industry through the Passive Industry Working Group to develop a PIA product which is highly useable and scalable. This will allow our customers to deploy their own networks, supporting the delivery of faster, more reliable broadband to their customers and ultimately supporting the government’s ambition to deploy Full Fibre to 15 million homes by 2025.

We want to be a dependable partner for all our customers who want to use our ducts and poles, and we’ll continue to work closely with industry over the coming months as the product continues to evolve.”

The new product is due to be introduced on 1st April 2019 but it’s not the end of the road for PIA changes. Most of the respondents to our queries appear to view Openreach’s reference offer as a sort of “baseline” on which to make further improvements and there will be a 1 year bedding-in period before SLGs are applied, as well as future reviews in order to assess its progress.

Two of the ISPs we engaged with also appear to be expecting further refinements to the arrangements for forecasting, network adjustments and KPIs during the first year of implementation. Likewise Ofcom’s forthcoming Physical Infrastructure Market Review (PIMR), due this summer (here), looks set to require the adoption of “unrestricted usage” (instead of mixed usage) and possibly better SLAs.

Similarly some of the remaining issues, such as the aforementioned one with wayleaves on private land, are probably more a matter for the Government to resolve. The prize for getting this right could, according to Ofcom, “fundamentally change the business case for building new networks … It could cut the upfront costs of laying fibre cables by around 50% – from £500 per home, to £250. It could also reduce the time required for digging works, enabling fibre to be installed in some streets in a matter of hours.”

UPDATE 30th March 2019

Hyperoptic has finally given us a comment.

Dana Tobak, CEO of Hyperoptic, said:

“Granting competitors the right to deploy their fibre in Openreach’s ducts and poles unleashed a tidal wave of optimism that a shift in the balance of power in the broadband market was in reach. As things stand, the wave is heading for a crash, putting at risk Government’s hopes of vibrant competition in fibre rollout.

Openreach has no incentive to treat its competitors fairly – instead it is attempting to slow us down and make us pay to unblock and repair its Victorian infrastructure.”

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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16 Responses
  1. Avatar Salek

    Its in BT interests to delay a viable product for as long as possible, in this case, once openreach has a large full fibre footprint this product will serve little purpose,

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      I think we are passed that now. OR (due to constraints in BT) cannot invest fast enough so OR will be under pressure to comply and not introduce unnecessary process delays. The problem is Altnets like Cityfibre will concentrate where the duct exists and is still serviceable but may simply miss out the “too hard” premises where cable is directly buried etc. In my view it hastens the point where BT can no longer maintain national pricing and the burden will fall totally on rural. If an Altnet has covered an area using BT’s infrastructure then BT’s commercial benefit of investing in OR FTTP is minimised to concentrate on overlay to cover the longer lines/rural that Cityfibre are not interested in. Unless Ofcom recognise the consequences and impose obligations on the Altnets (open access to ISPs etc) there will be minimum competition and choice.
      ISPs like Hyperoptics and True speed already use OR capacity or OR ducts successfully and whilst they would no doubt welcome more optimum processes they do not seem to moan like CityFibre.

      Note: The BT infrastructure cannot come free. It has liabilities, maintenance and security.

    • Avatar alan

      “Note: The BT infrastructure cannot come free. It has liabilities, maintenance and security.”

      Do providers that use PIA not pay Openreach for its use on an ongoing basis then?

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      @alan. Yes but simply highlighting that BT spends hundreds of millions on its infrastructure each year and it decays or collapses over time. Anybody requiring access or use needs to pay their fair share particularly long term if they become the only user of an asset. I have a particular issue with CityFibre who appear to want open access to it without restriction.

      My view also is that access should be reciprocal including Cityfibre and VM duct.

    • Avatar alan

      What BT pay and how long a duct lasts is irrelevant. The charge is (or should be) to use the duct and nothing more.

      I do not see why if someone is paying for access to a duct and that duct may be damaged why they are not allowed to fix it thereself if they so choose rather than having to pay Openreach even more to fix it. In fact i do not understand why the other provider should have to pay Openreach to fix it IF THEY are already using the duct and paying for access to use it.

      Either providers are paying for “access” or they are paying for “maintenance”. It should be for access as that is what the “A” in “PIA” stands for is it not?

      From what i can make of PIA its basically a rental agreement for a provider to use a duct.

      If i go to a tool hire place and rent a tool, i pay a fixed price to use that tool. If the tool dies while im using it through no fault of my own but because its down to the tool being 50 years old and knackered the tool hire place does not suddenly charge me for the rent of my tool plus the cost of a new tool also. Its not my fault its some 50 year old pile of tat on its last legs they rented to me.

      I fail to see why it should be different for OR when basically every rental agreement ive ever come across (even back in the days when people rented TVs) you just pay for the rent of the item, not the maintenance of it. (though technically i spose part of the expected failure of such item after a certain amount of time is expected and built into the cost, in any regard i fail to see why it should be different for OR, figure out an appropriate price rather than charge one price and then expect more to fix issues).

  2. Avatar Scottish Fibre

    @Meadmodj This is an imposed directive based on BT’s market dominance. BT is a monopoly as per the Goverment’s definition. CityFibre and VM are not. The UK remedy is DPA period and it should work as intended.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      BT has a SMP we all know that. But very soon there will be geographical monopolies in the Ultra/Giga market particularly if OR FTTP becomes uncommercial in certain locations and hence no OR investment short/medium term.

      Why for instance can’t providers such as Hyperoptics use VM duct. All I want is fairness.

    • Avatar alan

      “BT has a SMP we all know that. But very soon there will be geographical monopolies in the Ultra/Giga market particularly if OR FTTP becomes uncommercial in certain locations and hence no OR investment short/medium term.”

      Sorry but regional and national are 2 different things. That would be like saying Ferrari have a “geographic monopoly” over Ford because in one town where Ford does not have a dealership, Ferrari does.

      Nationally Ferrari may only have dealerships in less than 1% of the country where as Ford may be 90%, and you using your logic are saying that would be unfair to Ford and Ferrair have a SMP????

      “Why for instance can’t providers such as Hyperoptics use VM duct. All I want is fairness.”

      I dare say they could if VM wanted to let them, they do not have to though as neither have SMP (Just like Ferrari above) they do not have to. If they did then (again using the analogy above) what you would be saying is you want to see Fords in Ferrari dealerships also. <<< I doubt that would work or anyone would visit there to buy a Ford.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Irrevelent comparison.

      So your ok with a single ISP and network such as Vodafone/CityFibre with no fixed Ultra/Giga competition for at least 5 years with no obligations. Fine.

    • Avatar alan

      It is not an irrelevant comparison. That is how SMP works. Organisation which have SMP are BIGGER than those that do not.

      Am i ok with a single provider such as voda/CF with no competition in an area? I fail to see how that can happen, anyone is free to build their own network in the same area are they not?

      You do realise using that logic everywhere where Openreach/BT are the only current provider that also means there is no competition? I would suggest that happens in far more regional variations than it does where only voda/CF have a presence. Which still means Openreach are the SMP, not the other way round.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      You are thinking current not future

      OR is regulated for pricing and open for all ISP and has a USO obligation so will encompass all premises

      If an Altnet utilises BT infrastructure without obligations an org like OR which still has historic overheads cannot compete and therefore may not invest in the Altnet area. That would result in lower OR revenues in urban which lowers the amount of investment in rural and without urban revenues rural prices may rise

      In addition BT will retain the USO obligation so if someone requests it in the Altnet area the unit cost of provision may rise leading to more requests using the £3,400 and may lead to increased exclusion

      The issue isn’t now but we are sowing the seeds for 5/6 years time.

    • Avatar karn

      “If an Altnet utilises BT infrastructure without obligations an org like OR which still has historic overheads cannot compete and therefore may not invest in the Altnet area.”

      Wouldn’t the altnet be paying OR to use their infrastructure in the first place? WOuld the altnet also not have overhaeds when it comes to spending and further rollout?

      Oh and finally if any of that were true why do OR overbuild in VM areas and VM overbuild in OR areas if someone already there equals excess overhead and unable to compete?

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      @karn. OR will receive a peppercorn rent for infrastructure access but this is only likely to cover costs. Overbuild of FTTP will only occur where the provider can forecast sufficient market share and that will be more difficult to achieve if there is already a FTTP provision present. The problem for the consumer is if that FTTP provision is exclusive or does not cover their particular street/premise for the foreseeable future. OR has obligations Altnets do not and while exploiting G.Fast it will be selectively focus any FTTP investment.

    • Avatar alan

      “You are thinking current not future”

      Can i borrow the time machine you have which makes your opinion on the future correct?

      “OR is regulated for pricing and open for all ISP and has a USO obligation so will encompass all premises”

      The entire industry is regulated by Ofcom as for the USO if you are refering to the new 10Mb USO then BT itself signed up to that it was not forced upon them.

      “If an Altnet utilises BT infrastructure without obligations an org like OR which still has historic overheads cannot compete and therefore may not invest in the Altnet area. ”

      Good it will stop them and the countless news items about them overbuilding in areas they previously deemed non commercially viable. Or better yet, maybe they will deliver products to areas that do not already have decent broadband first rather than focusing on increasing speeds to those that already get good service.

      “That would result in lower OR revenues in urban which lowers the amount of investment in rural and without urban revenues rural prices may rise”

      Considering a fair bunch of the Altnets invest where BT/OR have not i fail to see what difference it will make. Are you trying to say the likes of FTTC and FTTP which has been around from BT/OR for approaching a decade which has not been rolled out to certain rural areas people and Altnets should not only wait longer for them to do it but also give them more money?

      “In addition BT will retain the USO obligation so if someone requests it in the Altnet area the unit cost of provision may rise leading to more requests using the £3,400 and may lead to increased exclusion”

      I highly doubt anyone in a rural area with an altnet is going to request BT also serve their home and be willing to pay the cost which could be thousands over that first £3,400 anyway.

      “OR will receive a peppercorn rent for infrastructure access but this is only likely to cover costs.”

      WHAT COSTS? its a charge for access to a duct, what costs are involved? If an Altnet pays BT a fee no matter if it is £1 or £1 million each month what are the COSTS per month to BT/OR for allowing that altnet to shove a cable in a duct……… NO do not mention maintenance to ducts which may or may not need work 5 years down the line. I want to know what COST each and every time the altnet is billed for using the duct has BT had to spend.

      “Overbuild of FTTP will only occur where the provider can forecast sufficient market share”

      What dribble, if you build in an area before anyone else is there you have 100% of the market for the product you sell, build after someone is already there and then it is a 50/50 chance. If they want 100% share of an area build where others have not. You know like the altnets have been doing.

      “OR has obligations Altnets do not”

      Really then why are all the figures OR give for planned rollout “aims” also. The only obligations BT/OR have is to its shareholders and pension debt, well tough they put thereself in that position.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      @alan. You clearly do not understand the issue I raise. We will see.

    • Avatar alan

      Oh no i clearly understand. Its simple, a provider pays Openreach for access/rent to/of a duct.

      Openreach/or just you then want OR to be given more money to fix the faulty thing they rented to the provider?

      Here is an idea, sort your broken s^^t out before you rent it to someone, or use the rent money to fix it. Lets hope Openreach never go into the housing market and rent homes with faulty gas/water/electric supply, and not want to pay to fix them eh?

      Or rent cars to people with faulty brakes, that one will go down well also.

      I guess OR are special though and they should just be allowed to rent people broke rubbish.

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