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Consumers could benefit from lower superfast broadband prices as soon as next year, as Ofcom wants the wholesale price to be reduced.

The watchdog has told Openreach to cut the amount telecoms companies can be charged for accessing its network.

Under its proposals, the wholesale cost of 40Mbps superfast broadband to the likes of TalkTalk and Sky would come down from £88 a year to £52.77 a year.

Ofcom believes reducing wholesale costs would promote competition in the superfast broadband market, enabling companies to create their own full-fibre ultrafast networks to compete with Openreach.

This would in turn mean that consumers get the benefit of lower costs by next year.

The watchdog is also introducing stricter requirements on Openreach to ensure new broadband lines are installed and faults are repaired more quickly.

Tougher quality standards will also be used to gauge Openreach's performance and fines could be imposed if it falls short of these targets.

Jonathan Oxley, Competition Group Director at Ofcom, commented: "Our plans are designed to encourage long-term investment in future ultrafast, full-fibre networks, while promoting competition and protecting consumers from high prices.

"People need reliable phone and broadband services more than ever. We’re making sure the market is delivering the best possible services for homes and business across the UK."

TalkTalk Chief Executive Dido Harding has welcomed Ofcom's announcement, but said it will be frustrating to consumers that "they have to wait a year before they benefit".

"Ofcom’s decision to only regulate some products also risks entrenching a speed divide, with customers having to make a false choice between fair prices or higher speeds," she said.

"Ensuring consumers enjoy low prices on all superfast products is the best way to maximise take-up and encourage investment in the pure fibre infrastructure of the future."

Richard Neudegg, Head of Regulation at uSwitch.com, added that Ofcom's move is a recognition that superfast broadband is "increasingly becoming the new normal when it comes to the speed consumers expect from their internet provider".

"In return for controls on some superfast wholesale prices, Openreach will have flexibility on its emerging ultrafast services, such as G.Fast," he said. 

"The hope is this will help keep the investment going to upgrade the UK's digital infrastructure."   Mr Neudegg added that the new rules also encourage Openreach to "up their game" when it comes to deploying new broadband lines and repairing faults.

This, he said, should help to reduce the fears of broadband blackouts, which often puts people off switching to better services.

Ofcom's latest announcement comes shortly after BT agreed to the watchdog's demand for Openreach to become a distinct and legally separate company.

The regulator had sought changes to Openreach's governance as it was concerned BT still had control over its decisions, while other telecoms firms were not adequately consulted on investment plans that would affect them.

Openreach will therefore be separated from BT and operate with its own staff, management, strategy and a legal purpose to serve all of its customers equally.

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