Industry calls for continued competitive landscape from TAR 2026

Mon, 13/05/2024 - 09:21
Fibre Feature

Ofcom has kicked off its Telecoms Access Review (TAR) 2026, an evaluation of the regulations that will apply to the UK fixed telecoms markets from April 2026 until March 2031.

Ahead of consultation, industry heads have shared their hopes that the new bill will maintain the competitive landscape created by the proceeding Wholesale Fixed Telecoms Market Review 2021, and go further to promote better outcomes for end-users.

Kevin McNulty, Strategy Director, ITS Technology Group, said: “Previous regulation established a framework that has created a more competitive fibre marketplace.

“The predictability it has provided has allowed altnets to accrue a combined multi-billion investment to build a substantial footprint across the UK.”

Illustrating McNulty’s point, PE commitments to altnets have now topped £14bn, according to Intelligens Consulting, and INCA and Point Topic’s latest industry review estimates that the combined altnet footprint of 12.9 million premises in aggregate now narrowly beats Openreach’s footprint of 12.8m.

The investment in emerging altnets has also spurred big players to increase their own build place as Guy Miller, CEO at MS3 points out: “This private investment has awoken the sleeping giants of Openreach and Virgin and got them to also ramp up their commitment to a Fully Fibre Britain.”

With this competition benefitting all, it is no surprise then that the main sentiment shared amongst altnet leaders is that the current competitive landscape should be maintained and advanced.

James Fredrickson, Chief Corporate Officer at Vorboss added: “There is no need for radical change. We want the opposite.

“We welcome the continuation of a steady and predictable regulatory environment that is beneficial for those seeking investment, especially in an environment of high cost of capital and low economic growth. Ofcom is right to keep its focus on monitoring BT and Openreach’s dominance; the job of creating a truly competitive market is far from done. Any softening of regulatory controls risks deterring further investment in its competitors.”

Miller echoed the same sentiment, stating: “With high interest rates and increased competition Ofcom must look to protect this nascent industry by encouraging altnet adoption, preventing incumbents from abusing their dominant positions, and not relaxing regulations.”

As both Miller and Fredrickson allude to, Ofcom’s review must also adapt to the new environment and challenges presented by the 2026-2031 period. Altnets will be operating against higher interest rates and higher competition than envisaged in the 2021 review. A much more significant focus will also need to be shown towards encouraging network uptake.

McNulty added: “The objective of this review must be to establish a framework that ensures the best deal for the end-consumer, driven by a fair and competitive market for all players. Deregulation and PIA pricing strategy should be robustly explored in this review.”

PXC’s Director of Supply and Partnerships Jenny Harrison suggests that Ofcom must explore weather it is in consumers’ interest to maintain Openreach wholesale prices above its costs in areas where there is no altnet build, and no altnet build is likely.

She said: “Ofcom must also develop an environment which fosters FTTP take up and high FTTP quality and ensures strong retail competition which is key for consumers.

“A new issue for this review is the framework for how exchange closure/exit works so that the significant cost savings for Openreach are shared with consumers and CPs.”


Hull as a microcosm

Connexin CEO Furqan Alamgir shares how Hull operates as a microcosm for the UK, as its review is independent as occurs a few months after the rest of the nation.

He agrees broadly with the points that competition must be sustained to allow altnets to continue building high-quality network coverage. He along with McNulty noted that PIA access had been key for this, saying: “Currently we, and other networks, benefit from access to shared infrastructure across the rest of the UK. With our work on the government's flagship Project Gigabit programme in the East Midlands, for example, we can build quickly and effectively in partnership with Openreach.”

“However, The last Hull review in 2021 found that KCOM, the incumbent, had Significant Market Power, but didn’t resolve the issue of infrastructure sharing, therefore altnets in Hull have been forced to build parallel infrastructure. This is changing, thanks to updates to the law and a more assertive regulator, but it is vital infrastructure access is fully resolved in 2026.”

Similarly, McNulty finished: “Deregulation and PIA pricing strategy should be robustly explored in this review.”