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Telecommunications Infrastructure: Cabling, Ducts and Poles

Published Monday, March 27, 2017

This briefing gives an overview of the UK’s telephone and broadband infrastructure. It covers fixed (static) broadband infrastructure (rather than wireless technologies). It includes an introduction to poles and ducts, and how they can be accessed by other Internet service providers who are wanting to build their own telecommunications infrastructure.

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Telegraph Pole

In the UK, most telephone cables that run between customer premises and telephone exchanges are operated by Openreach (which is part of the BT Group). Telephone cables can be used to provide broadband connections to the Internet, and Openreach provides wholesale services that other internet service providers (e.g. BT, Sky and TalkTalk) can buy in order to sell broadband access to consumers. Broadband access can also be provided using other types of infrastructure. Instead of telephone lines, copper television cables (operated by Virgin Media), fibre optic cables or radio signals can be used to transmit broadband signals.

Ofcom wants to give BT’s competitors better access to its telephone poles and underground ducts, in order to make it cheaper and faster for other companies to install their own fibre optic cables for high-speed Internet broadband. Ofcom says that this will encourage competition and lead to greater infrastructure investment.

Openreach has been required to offer competitors access to its ducts and poles since 2010. However, few companies have asked Openreach for access. In its original form, the process by which competitors could apply for access was time consuming and involved the applicant returning to Openreach for information or approval at several different stages. The Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator has been working with Openreach and five other operators to trial improvements to the access process, and some of these have already been made. Ofcom is currently conducting a consultation on how the access process can be improved further.

POSTbriefs POST-PB-0024

Author: Lydia Harriss

Topics: Information technology, Internet and cybercrime, Research and innovation, Science, Telecommunications

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.