NI to feature in BT's £12 billion full-fibre rollout but customers face higher bills

BT's wholesale division, Openreach, will see no regulation or price caps on its new fibre services but will be able to increase prices on its older copper networks in line with inflation for the next 10 years. Picture by Joe Giddens/PA Wire.

THE north is likely to take a back seat in BT's plans to spend £12 billion rolling out full-fibre broadband to 20 million UK homes, but customers could face higher bills in future.

A long-awaited decision by Ofcom on Thursday will allow BT Openreach to lift the price caps on its new fibre services, enabling it to charge more.

BT will also be able to increase prices on its older copper networks in line with inflation for the next 10 years.

The increase in costs on the older networks will encourage customers to switch to the new full-fibre services and the extra cash will go towards the rollout and get investors the returns they were expecting.

BT said it will provide clarity over pricing and planned investment.

Officials hoped its £12bn investment would allow them to make a profit margin of 12 per cent and, although Ofcom did not specify a percentage, the company said the rules would allow the full fibre rollout to begin.

But with Northern Ireland already ranked as one of the best UK regions in terms of full-fibre coverage, the rollout is likely to accelerate in other parts of the UK first.

Philip Jansen, chief executive of BT, said: "This is good news for all fibre providers in the UK.

"For us, it is the green light we've been waiting for to get on and build like fury.

"Full-fibre broadband will be the foundation of a strong BT for decades to come and a shot in the arm for the UK as we build back better from this pandemic."

Ofcom said the approach will lead to properties in around 70 per cent of the UK having a choice of networks from competitive commercial rollout.

The UK Government plans to cover 20 per cent of the country through public funding to help ensure nobody gets left behind, the regulator added.

In November 2020, BT Openreach lost out in a lucrative £165 million contract with Stormont to transform rural broadbrand in Northern Ireland.

Fibrus Networks is already pressing ahead with Project Stratum, which will connect around 76,000 with full fibre access.

The first customers were connected to the enhanced network earlier this month.

The project is backed by £150m from the DUP's confidence and supply arrangement with Theresa May's government in 2017.

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