Time and charges criticised
Ofcom demands BT improve business services
The new rules will be finalised at the end of April, subject to consideration by the European Commission.
They follow a strategic review by the watchdog which confirmed plans for tougher quality of service standards for BT’s Openreach division, and better quality of service across the telecoms industry.
BT said it was committed to doing a better job for business customers, but noted that the installation of high-speed ethernet connections could be complex.
In a statement, it said: “The required ethernet price cuts and the introduction of dark fibre will not help to underpin service improvement.”
Ofcom set out a number of recommendations to improve the service BT provides:
Faster installations for businesses
Leased lines – dedicated, high-speed data links used by large businesses and mobile and broadband operators to transfer data on their networks – often require complex, bespoke installations. The completion date may be affected by factors such as street works or difficulty accessing premises.
Nonetheless, Ofcom has decided that Openreach is taking too long to install these lines and is not providing adequate certainty that the services will be provided by the date first given to the customer.
Since 2011, the average time between a customer’s order and the line being ready has increased from 40 to 48 working days. Ofcom’s proposals would require BT to reduce this to 46 working days by the end of March 2017, and return it to 40 working days the following year.
Ofcom also found that Openreach is currently failing to complete one in four leased line installations on the initial date it promised to its customer.
It proposes that, by the end of March 2017, Openreach must complete 80% of leased line orders by the date it promises customers, rising to 90% from April 2018.
The watchdog wants Openreach to fix at least 94% of faults on its leased line network within five hours. This will ensure that, while meeting the new rules on installations, BT continues to observe the need to fix faults quickly.
The new rules would apply to high-speed ‘ethernet’ services, the most common type of leased line used by businesses. The new rules are summarised in a table below.
Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom competition group director, said: “All of us depend on high-speed, fibre optic lines. Businesses use them to communicate, and they also underpin the broadband and mobile services used by consumers at home and on the move.
“BT is relied on by many companies to install these lines, and its performance has not been acceptable. These new rules will mean companies across the UK benefit from faster installation times, greater certainty about installation dates, and fast repairs if things go wrong.”
The proposed new requirements for business leased lines follow plans announced in Ofcom’s Strategic Review of Digital Communications or better quality of service across the telecoms industry.
Ofcom also intends to introduce tougher rules on faults, repairs and installations for consumers; transparent information on service quality; and automatic compensation for consumers when things go wrong.
Opening up BT’s ‘dark fibre’ network
In its strategic review, Ofcom set out plans to reduce the UK’s reliance on Openreach by further opening up BT’s network.
It confirmed plans to require BT to provide access to its optical fibre network for providers of high-speed leased lines for businesses.
This means BT would have to give competitors physical access to its fibre-optic cables, allowing them to take direct control of the connection. This service is often referred to as ‘dark fibre’, because the cables would not be ‘lit’ using BT’s electronic equipment. Instead, they would be ‘lit’ by the competitor installing its own equipment at either end of the optical fibre.
BT is already required to offer wholesale leased line products, which bundle the optical fibre and BT’s own network equipment, at regulated prices to competitors. BT would still be required to provide these services, but the new proposal would go further, allowing operators to use BT’s fibre-optic cables with their own equipment, rather than rely on BT’s equipment.
This should increase the opportunity for competitors to develop new high-capacity services for their customers.
Mr Oxley added: “We have outlined plans to reduce the country’s reliance on BT’s Openreach division. Our proposals on ‘dark fibre’ do just that, letting BT’s competitors better serve their customers by getting direct access to BT’s optical fibre cables.”
Lower prices for high-speed lines
Ofcom has confirmed plans to reduce the wholesale prices BT charges for leased lines services, which Ofcom expects to result in lower prices for businesses.
The main ‘charge controls’ relate to two groups of services provided by BT. These are: newer lines based on the ‘rthernet’ standards for sending data at very high speeds over networks; and older leased lines using ‘traditional interface’ technology.
· For BT’s Ethernet services with bandwidths up to and including 1Gbit/s, Ofcom has concluded an initial reduction in prices of 12%, with an overall cap of CPI -13.25%, for each year of the charge control.
· For BT’s traditional interface services with bandwidths up to and including 8Mbit/s, Ofcom has concluded an initial reduction in prices of 9%, with an overall cap of CPI -3.5%, for each year of the charge control.
Ofcom aims to bring prices down over a three-year period from 1 May 2016. This type of control is linked to inflation based on the consumer price index (CPI), and provides an incentive for BT to make efficiency gains. The charge controls have been informed by a review of BT’s costs.
The draft statement follows consultation with industry and has now been notified to the European Commission. Subject to the Commission’s consideration, Ofcom will publish its final statement next month.
As part of the dark fibre proposals, Ofcom would require BT to publish a draft ‘reference offer’ for industry, containing wholesale pricing and terms for access, by 1 September 2016.
This would then be subject to negotiation between BT and other providers, with a view to BT publishing a final reference offer by 1 December 2016. Dark fibre access would then be available to telecoms providers from 1 October 2017.