Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, announced on Wednesday that it has made new proposals to improve superfast broadband deals for UK customers.
The proposals are part of Ofcom’s Fixed Access Market Reviews, said to be a major review of wholesale telecoms services that is a wide-ranging consultation on the wholesale telecoms markets used by various companies planning to offer telephone and broadband services to UK consumers.
Currently under consultation, the new measures are designed to promote competition among superfast broadband providers at the wholesale level and include cheaper switching of providers and a reduction in the length of minimum contracts. The regulator suggests that these proposals could mean an 80% drop in the wholesale cost of switching a customer from one superfast broadband supplier to another, while the minimum length of the wholesale contract between BT and the switched customer’s new supplier could be lowered to one month, as opposed to a year.
Proposals to ensure that Openreach, BT’s network access division, maintains performance at acceptable levels have also been made. Connections to BT’s network are installed and maintained by Openreach on behalf of competing telecoms providers and the new measures are aimed establishing clear targets for fault repairs and the installation of new lines for all the telephone and broadband users who rely indirectly on the company.
Under a process known as ‘virtual unbundled local access’ (VULA) initiated by Ofcom in 2010, broadband providers can retail their own superfast services over BT’s network. When VULA was first introduced, Ofcom said there were fewer than 100,000 superfast broadband connections on the BT network, however that number had increased to 1.4m by 2012 and further increases in take-up are expected by the regulator in the future. Ofcom added that the consultation proposes not to set controls on the wholesale price of VULA
Ofcom is also proposing to reduce the switching fee charged by Openreach to between GBP10 and GBP15. This fee is currently GBP50 and is charged to the company that the customer is switching to, but it is reportedly often passed on to the customer. The new measures also require that BT offers wholesale communications products to other providers on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis.