Photographer: Jason Alden

BT Asked to Give Rivals Access to Fiber in Market Review

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The U.K. telecommunications watchdog has proposed rules that will compel BT Group Plc to open up more of its network to competitors as rivals lobby for greater access to Britain’s biggest network.

The move is aimed at increasing competition in the leased-lines market worth 2 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) a year, Ofcom said on Friday. Such lines are dedicated, high-speed links used by companies as well as mobile-phone and broadband carriers to transfer data.

BT should give other companies physical access to its fiber-optic cables, allowing competitors to take direct control of the connection, Ofcom said. This service is commonly called dark fiber, because the fiber-optic cables would be “lit” by competitors’ equipment rather than BT’s. BT has said the rules will hurt network investment.

“Mandating dark fiber risks favoring a few companies that have the greatest capability to deploy it, to the disadvantage of all other firms,” BT said in a statement. “It would also increase costs, divert resources and add more complexity just when we’re beginning to make progress on improving service.”

Ofcom has also asked BT to ensure that it performs installations on time in 80 percent of cases by next year. BT, the former U.K. phone monopoly, resells service on its Openreach network to other carriers at regulated rates, meaning that BT’s rivals rely on its service to sell to their own customers.

Promised Dates

“Ofcom is concerned that Openreach often takes too long to install leased lines, and too often changes the date on which it promises to deliver service,” the regulator said in a statement Friday.

The proposed rules are part of Ofcom’s strategic review of the industry, started in March, to examine competition and investment issues. BT’s rivals are using the review, the first in a decade, as a chance to call for the examination of the company’s market control.

Ofcom’s proposals are subject to a consultation period ending on July 31. The rules that result will take effect in April 2016.

Earlier this year, BT agreed to acquire EE Ltd., the largest U.K. mobile carrier, from Orange SA and Deutsche Telekom AG for 12.5 billion pounds. The transaction would create the biggest phone company in Britain offering landline, wireless, broadband and TV services.

Most of the other operators use BT’s Openreach network: Vodafone Group Plc, TalkTalk Telecom Group Plc, EE and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.’s Three all buy regulated wholesale access to the infrastructure to resell to customers.

BT shares were little changed at 465.05 pence at 10:37 a.m. in London, giving the company a market value of 38.9 billion pounds. The stock is up 16 percent so far this year.

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