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Broadband AltNets Setup New UK Infrastructure Sharing Group

Wednesday, Feb 14th, 2024 (10:57 am) - Score 3,160
finger touching fiber optic on technology background

The Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), which represents some of the UK’s alternative broadband networks, has helped to setup a new Infrastructure Sharing Group (ISG) to ensure that the rollout of full fibre (FTTP) is “not held back by inconsistencies in the availability of Openreach physical infrastructure“.

The idea of network operators sharing infrastructure is not a new one, but making it work in a way that is safe and can benefit all parties is a difficult challenge. At present, Openreach (BT), as a network operator with Significant Market Power (SMP), are already required to share access to their existing cable ducts and poles via the Ofcom regulated Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product. But this isn’t possible in every location.

Outside of PIA accessible areas, infrastructure sharing often comes down to the ability to reach commercial agreements between competitors, which is naturally problematic. Put another way, if you’ve invested significant money to deploy a new network, and you’re a smaller operator that is already taking on a lot of risk, then you’re often disincentivised to give rivals a free ride to use what you’ve built.

The existing Access to Infrastructure (ATI) Regulations 2016, which applies to all operators, does already include provisions on the exchange of information about existing infrastructure, and the right to access that infrastructure on fair and reasonable commercial terms etc. But this doesn’t matter much if a commercially viable deal cannot be reached.

The government did recently attempt to update the ATI Regulations to improve infrastructure sharing, but some AltNets said they were concerned about the risk of “unintended consequences” if changes to the ATI ended up undermining the investment cases in new networks (here).

Likewise, operators expressed “limited interest in using non-Openreach or non-telecoms infrastructure,” due to a general preference for telecoms infrastructure, as well as the “availability of a more stringent regulated product on a near ubiquitous nationwide network.” Instead, the government opted to merely clarify the existing rules, which did little to move the dial.

INCA’s Solution

In recent months the debate over infrastructure sharing has reached the headlines again, not least in the Hull area, where KCOM has historically made it slow and difficult for AltNets to access their existing fibre network. As a result, those operators have found it easier and cheaper to simply deploy new poles, albeit often to the annoyance of local residents (e.g. building poles in areas that haven’t had them before or adding extra poles in locations that do).

The new Infrastructure Sharing Group (ISG) is thus a more focused attempt to encourage AltNets to work more closely together and achieve a united front.

ISG – Scope of Activities to Explore:

➤ opportunities for sharing between Altnets and third parties;

➤ the possibilities of standardising commercial, technical and operational approaches to sharing;

➤ the suitability of the existing Access to Infrastructure Regulations framework;

➤ and the need for improved communication between all parties including local communities.

The core aims of the group include options for Altnet infrastructure sharing at scale, speeding up deployment, improving the ability for Altnets to generate incremental revenue, and testing and implementation plans to reduce noise around pole deployments to improve conditions for local communities.

Guy Miller, CEO of MS3 Networks and Chair of the ISG, said:

“INCA members and the Altnet sector are focussed on delivering quality services at competitive prices to customers. To ensure that they can continue building quality networks without issue, this group has been formed to tackle one of the sector’s growing issues.

The creation of the group has been well received by members, who are in agreement that sharing infrastructure should be prioritised when deploying networks, especially in areas where Openreach PIA is not available or at capacity. As the CEO of a network builder focussed in an area where PIA is not widely available, we know better than most the challenge this brings to us and the communities in which we operate”.

The creation of such a group should be welcomed, although it remains to be seen how many AltNets will end up participating and whether they’re able to produce anything more concrete than a few occasional location-specific agreements between operators. Overcoming some of the inherent obstacles and commercial sensitives involved will not be an easy task.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
10 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Andrew says:

    We need to scrap Openreach and their —- non symmetrical lines and just ramp up Cityfibre, who seem to be doing it properly

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The risk is you’d just end up recreating the same problem, but with a new name. CityFibre is an excellent competitor to have, but they have their own vested interests and are not some super consumer friendly deity come to save our poor souls – they’re a commercial company with shareholders to satisfy.

      Not to mention that Openreach’s lines are already symmetric capable, it’s just a matter of what kit the operator puts on the end of them. Also, none of this solves the above issue in non-PIA areas, which is really a different discussion.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      why would we want to “scrap” the company that’s singlehandedly making FTTP a reality for most of us, rather than the cherry picked overbuilder whose also-run network leaves scars everywhere it goes?

      very strange suggestion.

    3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      While I would like nothing more than to see Openreach a fraction of the size it is now, scrapping it as Mark posted would mean we would still be in the same situation but with a different company.
      What needs to be done is these smaller network providers need the same support that Openreach have had from government, and councils have had over the years. How much public money have been giving to openreach over the years?

      i hope this group does something and help with the situation we have now.

      In an ideal world, we should have dark fibre, laid down and paid by the government, not owned by any company and then any provider can use it, something like what Openreach does, but not a company.

      Sadly that will not happen, so alt nets are the next best thing

    4. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      again it’s a very odd suggestion. I know there’s a lot of irrational Openreach and BT hatred but this idea of splitting it up for apparently no reason is certainly up there. If the “altnets” can’t “compete” despite having huge gifts given to them, such as cheap access to PIA, then the solution is not to try to drag Openreach down to the same level.

      Remember that this is how the cable companies were created and that benefited no one in the end.

    5. Avatar photo Patch says:

      Being someone who works in the industry, the comment of ‘doing it properly’ in relation to City Fibre makes me smile. Please tell that to the dozens of towns that have put up with endless distrubtion, to have an unfinished network.

  2. Avatar photo Andrew says:

    @Mark – this is fair enough and I shouldn’t swear, I guess it just angers me that they’re laying fibre, but not fully utilizing it

  3. Avatar photo John Francis Nolan says:

    Sounds familiar?

    see https://shorturl.at/bxMOP

    Best Wishes

    John

  4. Avatar photo Dave M says:

    Meanwhile, here in Exmouth, Devon – Jurassic fibre dug in some lovely new ducts some 8 months ago, with not a single strand of fibre to be seen in them, plenty of potential for duct sharing there!

    1. Avatar photo Vince says:

      @Dave M

      There’s a reason they’re known as Jurassic Failure

      Virgin are rolling out in increasing areas of Exmouth and there are pockets of Openreach FTTP so it’ll be on the way from companies who won’t ultimately disappear.

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