The altnet accuses BT’s wholesale access arm of “an aggressive strategy to foreclose infrastructure competition”
The UK’s largest alternative fibre network (altnet) builder, CityFibre, has submitted a Competition Act complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Ofcom against BT Openreach.
According to a statement from CityFibre, the complaint details how BT Openreach is undertaking an aggressive strategy to foreclose infrastructure competition in the UK fibre broadband market.
It claims this strategy exploits the dependency of its wholesale internet service provider customers (ISPs), deterring them from placing orders with alternative fibre providers, “even though these providers offer faster, more reliable, and cheaper wholesale services”.
Doing lasting damage
The Competition Act 1998 was designed to prevent companies taking unfair advantage of their dominant position in the market. CityFibre alleges, “BT Openreach’s strategy, set out in the complaint, risks causing irreversible harm to network competition in the UK”.
CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch said: “If left unchecked, BT Openreach will strangle competition and threaten the pace of the UK’s full fibre roll out – all at the same time as BT Consumer is imposing broadband price rises on millions of households far above the rate of inflation.
“Were this to happen, it would also send a clear signal to investors that this country is not a place where they can safely invest the billions of pounds needed to improve UK infrastructure.”
CityFibre is investing about £2.4 billion plus £8 billion in debt to pass up to 8 million more premises across 285 cities, towns and villages with gigabit-ready FTTP by the end of 2025. It has already passed about 2 million.
Last year, CityFibre complained to the Competition Appeal Tribunal about Ofcom’s review of Openreach’s discounted pricing scheme for ISPs, known as Equinox. Ofcom, the UK’s telecoms regulator, Ofcom, had decided that Openreach’s Equinox was not anti-competitive practice. Its complaint was not upheld, but some commentators felt it had failed on a technicality.
The new complaint to the CMA is a more substantial one, but is by no means guaranteed to succeed. For example, not all altnets offer practicable wholesale access to ISPs and ISPs using Openreach’s infrastructure – for example, where they have no alternative – have complained about having to pay more. Ofcom is also keen to encourage customers off the old copper local loop, onto fibre infrastructure.
BT’s goal is to provide FTTP coverage to 25 million premises by the end of 2026 at a cost of £15 billion, although it recently announced it would slow its build-out pace in a bid to save money as the former monopoly continues to struggle. It also strongly hinted that so-called Equinox 2 is imminent.