BT has bowed to pressure from Ofcom, the UK’s telecoms regulator, and cut the prices that it would charge rivals for access to its broadband network infrastructure.

The former telecoms monopoly last year agreed to grant rival telecoms operators access to its infrastructure – including roadside poles and underground spine ducts – to help create a superfast fibre broadband network around the UK.

Openreach, the BT subsidiary that maintains much of the company’s fixed-line infrastructure, in January proposed a tariff of £1.16 per metre to allow rival operators to run their own cables through its ducts, and £21 per telegraph pole to install their lines.

But this sparked protestations from BT’s rivals, and a letter of complaint about the proposed pricing was sent to Ed Vaizey, communications minister, by internet service providers including Fujitsu, Virgin Media and TalkTalk.

Following trials to ascertain the cost of renting the infrastructure, BT on Friday dropped its proposed access prices and also altered the way in which it would charge for infrastructure rental, allowing its rivals to “pick and mix” the services that they buy.

The move, which BT said would offer its rivals “greater flexibility and choice”, will cut the proposed prices to as little as 44p per metre for duct access.

“The price for pole access is also falling significantly, which should be of particular benefit to companies aiming to supply rural areas,” said BT. The price is roughly halving from £21 to £11 in cases where several wires are fixed to each pole.

The revised prices were “up to 38 per cent below the European average”, said Liv Garfield, Openreach chief executive. “The new prices are fair, strictly cost-orientated and in line with Ofcom guidance.”

But Virgin Media said BT’s proposed prices did not include charges for blockage clearance, cable recovery, new route build or pole replacement. On this basis, the prices were in some cases higher than those proposed by BT in January, Virgin Media said.

“We have had to wait 10 months only to find many of the crucial new build and ancillary charges remain unchanged or are even increased,” said Virgin Media.

“Whilst today’s revised pricing is a belated acknowledgement that certain basic charges were too high, there remains significant disparity between what BT is proposing and what industry knows the costs to carry out the work are.”

Through the Broadband Delivery UK programme, telecoms companies will soon have the opportunity to bid for £830m in government funding to stimulate investment in a superfast fibre broadband network.

Affordable access to BT’s ducts and poles is essential to the financial viability of such a network, and companies such as Fujitsu are among those eager to extend their fibre footprint using BT infrastructure, provided that the price is right.

Ofcom welcomed BT’s new prices, and noted: “We expect Openreach’s announcement to be important to enable communications providers in particular to participate in the process of bidding for public funds to deploy networks in the ‘final third’ of the country, which are mainly in rural areas.”

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