BT's internet rivals may expand in Northern Ireland after Ofcom ruling
A new era of investment in Northern Ireland's telecoms structures could follow after BT was told to open its Openreach network, one of its biggest rivals here has said.
In a landmark report, Ofcom said the UK must "do better" at rolling out superfast broadband and 4G mobile.
Rivals had called for a split between BT and its Openreach operation, which runs its cables, fibre and network infrastructure.
But the regulator stopped short of calling for a split and instead said BT, which has around 2,500 employees in Northern Ireland, must open up Openreach - which provides the final mile of network connection into consumers' homes - to allow rivals to build their own advanced fibre networks connected directly to homes and offices.
Ofcom stressed it had "absolutely not" ruled out full structural separation but was looking at alternatives to achieve the same goals more quickly and with potentially less disruption to consumers.
Rainbow Telecommunications, a rival of BT in Northern Ireland, said the deal could bring "unprecedented telecoms investment" in Northern Ireland.
Rainbow director Martin Hamill said: "The move being considered by Ofcom will provide greater transparency and clarity on the government-funded strategic roll-out of the broadband network in Northern Ireland.
"Greater reinvestment of the significant profits derived from Openreach will help create a step change in the pace of broadband development across Northern Ireland which provides the communications platform on which Northern Ireland business will derive future growth."
BT chief executive Gavin Patterson said the company was "keen to make significant investments" in broadband in coming years. He added: "We are happy to let other companies use our ducts and poles if they are genuinely keen to invest very large sums as we have done.
"Our ducts and poles have been open to competitors since 2009 but there has been little very interest to date. We will see if that now changes."