Telecommunications watchdog Ofcom has launched a consultation into next generation broadband networks. Ofcom is focusing on whether the UK requires a nationwide fibre broadband network.

The UK government communications regulator is also making its initial proposals for future regulation of the broadband market.

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The regulator notes that broadband has become a mass-market service, with providers other than BT offering services over three million unbundled broadband lines and Virgin Media offering a service to 50 percent of the country over cable.

Ofcom says that 99 percent of the UK is connected to a broadband-enabled exchange, and claims more than half of UK households have implemented broadband. Ofcom also notes that broadband prices have fallen by 9 percent in the past 12 months.

But broadband take-up on such a massive scale is putting great demand on current copper-based networks, with ISPs implementing technology to deliver faster speeds over existing networks.

The regulator warns that the development and consumption of high-speed services means current generation networks will at some point be unable to deliver the high speed broadband service customers demand.

Ofcom's consultation highlights how the market and infrastructure conditions in the UK are very different to those countries where investment in fibre has already been strong.

The regulator accepts that the deployment of UK-wide fiber channels could have a major impact on the economy and on UK consumers, and notes the need for regulatory clarity in support of any investment in such infrastructure.

Ofcom wants to encourage competition while leaving plenty of opportunity to innovate in the market, and concedes whatever regulation it does put in place must also reflect the "significant commercial investment risk" associated with deploying next-generation networks

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: "Investment in next-generation access will represent a substantial commercial risk and the market should decide where and when it will be made. We want to ensure there are no barriers to investment and provide a clear regulatory environment which will help encourage investment.

"But we also want to ensure that the benefits of competition which consumers have enjoyed with current generation broadband can also be achieved as we move to higher speed next generation access."

The consultation closes on December 5.