Telecommunications regulator Ofcom has published a series of proposals that will aim to overhaul how the broadband industry is regulated in order to boost investment in high-speed services such as full fibre.
The Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review 2021-26 proposes several major changes to the way in which the country's telecoms infrastructure is regulated, which it said will "supercharge" Britain's networks.
Interim chief executive at Ofcom Jonathan Oxley said the plans will help to create a full-fibre future for the whole country by removing the remaining roadblocks to investment and supporting competition to encourage the development of new networks.
"Full-fibre broadband is much faster and more reliable. It’s vital that people and businesses everywhere - whether in rural areas, smaller towns or cities - can enjoy these benefits," he continued. "So we’re making sure companies have the right incentives to accelerate full fibre to every part of the UK."
At the heart of the proposals is a four-point strategy to support competitive investment into the nation's broadband.
The first step is to improve the business case for fibre broadband, which Ofcom said will involve setting Openreach’s wholesale prices in a way that encourages competition from new networks, as well as investment by Openreach itself.
Next, there will be steps to deliver better protection for customers and encourage competition, with new regulations to ensure people can always access affordable broadband and prevent Openreach from stifling competition.
Thirdly, there will be specific support for rural areas to ensure these locations are not left behind in the move to full fibre. This will include allowing Openreach to recover investment costs across the wholesale prices of a wider range of services, reducing the risk of its investment.
Finally, Ofcom set out plans for the eventual retirement of the UK's copper network. As part of these moves, regulation on Openreach's copper products will be removed in areas where full fibre is built in order to support the firm in switching customers over to the new fibre network.
Customers will continue to be protected during this transition, as Ofcom will transfer regulations - such as price protections - from copper to new fibre services.
The proposals have been published for consultation, and interested parties are invited to provide any feedback before the close of the consultation period on April 1st. After this deadline, Ofcom is set to publish its final decisions in early 2021, before the current rules expire in April 2021.