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BT will be forced to allow rival internet service providers (ISPs) to access dedicated virtual links to its new fibre-optic broadband network, under Ofcom plans.

The communications regulator is attempting to ensure there is healthy competition in the next-generation broadband market, and has outlined the regulatory framework for such services.

By allowing virtual unbundling, ISPs which are currently reliant upon BT's copper-line network will also be able to deliver high-speed broadband packages using its fibre-optic infrastructure.

BT will be able to set prices for these new wholesale products, which Ofcom believes should promote further network investment by enabling the firm to make a fair rate of return, reflecting commercial risk.

"These prices will be constrained by the highly competitive wider broadband market and will be subject to rules to prevent anti-competitive pricing," Ofcom said.

BT is currently investing £2.5 billion upgrading its broadband infrastructure around the UK, while rival ISP Virgin Media has also made upgrades to its own network.

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