Telecoms companies in the UK have been urged to stop installing new telegraph poles by the data and digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez.

Lopez wrote in a public letter to network operators, including Openreach, Virgin Media O2, and KCOM, asking companies to prioritize sharing existing telegraph poles ahead of building new ones.

Openreach engineer
– Getty Images

Lopez said that a number of MPs have outlined the frustrations of communities they represent over the duplication of overhead fiber networks.

"They have advised that their constituents feel they have no control over how infrastructure is deployed in their local area, and this can negatively affect the overall perception of full fiber deployment," said Lopez.

In the letter, Lopez said that the government wants to revise the existing Cabinet Siting and Pole Siting Code of Practice.

The government wants to implement a refreshed set of guidelines that makes sure that "communities feel engaged in the deployment of new broadband infrastructure, whilst still allowing operators to continue deploying their networks."

Lopez noted that the concerns are most prominent in a small number of areas in England, although she has seen complaints from across the country.

Telcos around the UK have been developing their fiber networks heavily in the last few years, installing the required infrastructure along the way.

The government itself has committed to delivering gigabit-capable connectivity to 85 percent of the UK by 2025, with 99 percent of premises connected by 2030.

“Telegraph poles are a key piece of infrastructure bringing faster connectivity to communities and businesses across the country," said Lopez.

“Most telecoms companies are doing a fantastic job in delivering that connectivity with the support of those communities, by sharing existing infrastructure and taking into account surroundings when putting up new poles. But we know that there are some firms that are losing that vital community support by inappropriately or unnecessarily throwing up new infrastructure."

“I have today written to operators asking them to do whatever it takes to share existing infrastructure. We have already made a number of changes to the law to make it easier for them to do so – including allowing operators to fly lines from poles owned by other providers and sharing underground ducts."

Lopez said new infrastructure should only be built above ground when sharing existing infrastructure or installing lines underground is not viable.

The Duct and Poles Access remedy mentioned in the open letter was implemented by Ofcom when it found Openreach has "significant market power in the passive infrastructure market."

It requires Openreach to share its ducts and poles with any other operators, subject to a regulated fee structure.

Lopez refers to the current Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations 2003, which seeks to have operators share apparatus where practicable.

If telcos fail to comply with the regulations, Lopez warns that Ofcom will be able to investigate and take enforcement action on the operator.