An interview with:

Marta Wojciechowska

CEO, Fiberhost

Regulators "have not adapted" to open access model

An Interview with Marta Wojciechowska, CEO, Fiberhost
July 2022, London

Fiberhost serves almost a million people and is one of Poland's foremost fibre optic broadband providers.

Their CEO, Marta Wojciechowska, will be taking to the stage at Network X this October but ahead of this we got the chance to ask her a few questions ranging from their business model and the makeup of the Polish FTTH landscape to what they see as their biggest challenges right now.

Are you able to tell us about your role and Fibrehost – your model, your target market, and your success?

My name is Marta Wojciechowska and I am the CEO of Fibrehost. For nearly 30 years, we have been operating under the INEA brand and have been an integrated operator focused on providing retail services.  When we started our our fibre journey, the possibilities became clear - this was the model we wanted to base our strategy on.

In 2018 we separated the retail and wholesale businesses, and in 2020 we created ‘Fibrehost’ - the brand for our open fibre network. We believe the open network model is the most effective and sustainable way to provide more residents with high-speed Internet.

At Fibrehost, we are focusing on building fibre infrastructure and making it available. Our business model assumes the provision of active service – BSA and the highest possible take-up of the network.

We want to make the network available to as many operators as possible, and this is not because we have to, but because we want to. Our numbers speak for themselves – today, more than 100 service providers can offer services using our network, and we reach nearly 1 million households in Poland with our open access FTTH network.

We develop our networks as part of our own investments through acquisitions and with the support of EU subsidies. Thanks to the latter, we are reaching places that were previously digitally excluded with FTTH technology. By the end of 2026, we plan for the Fibrehost open access network to reach 2 million homes in Poland.

To what extent is the Polish FTTH landscape different and comparable to other European nations that are executing fibre roll-out today?

As in Europe, we are seeing the constant progression of FTTH rollout in Poland and the Covid crisis has slightly accelerated this trend. Unfortunately, Poland is still under the EU’s average with 47% coverage and a 37% take-up rate. Whereas At the end of 2021, the FTTH coverage in Europe reached 57% with a 48% take up on this infrastructure.

Our FTTH market is unfortunately significantly influenced by poor FTTH education, which affects the level of broadband services and a very high share in the mobile services market. On top of this, there are low prices which do not grow despite high inflation. This means we are in the group of European countries with the lowest price of broadband services. 

However, being one of the largest European Countries, and with digitalisation being high on the governmental agenda, there are a lot of opportunities on the horizon.

What is the biggest challenge that you and Fiberhost face in your day-to-day jobs?

Fibre deployments require a significant upfront investment that will be recovered over the long term. The recovery of this investment, along with the return on investment, is also subject to significant risk arising from uncertainty around demand and take-up of fibre services, regulatory risks and cost uncertainty.  

These investment risks are heightened in Poland as we are in a period of high inflation and potential economic turbulences due to the war in Ukraine. This could result in significant cost volatility and a weaker demand for fibre services.

Wholesalers have limited capacity to absorb these impacts and given that fibre network deployments are already highly efficient and broadband prices in Poland are already among the lowest in Europe. 

The risks are also more visible in remote, hard-to-reach areas, where deployment costs are higher and less predictable, and demand and take-up of fibre services more uncertain. For me, this is the main challenge, and this is something we are currently discussing as this can result in a slower and less extensive rollout of fibre across Poland, which would be to the detriment of Polish consumers.

The open access model is a relatively new phenomenon that positively impacts the market and competition development, inter-operator cooperation, and subscribers' interests. However, the legal and regulatory environment has not adapted to these changes, which may delay and weaken the benefits of open networks. We are in a dialogue with the appropriate institutions, regulators, and the Polish wholesale operators’ market to create a more friendly regulatory landscape.

How are you partnering and working with other industry stakeholders – private equity, regulators, governments, but also the tier 1 operators/AltNets?

We are building our networks primarily in the rural areas that were previously excluded – these are state-funded projects. Therefore, we must closely cooperate with governmental institutions, the regulator, and local authorities.

From our perspective, the critical aspect is an open dialogue with institutions responsible for shaping schemes for these infrastructure programmes. We are the biggest beneficiary of the EU funds in Poland with significant experience in infrastructure deployment.

As for the regulator – our mission is to provide FTTH infrastructure across Poland and ensure competition and a variety of broadband services. We are cooperating with 100 local and nationwide service providers on equal and transparent conditions. 

The support of local authorities is crucial throughout the whole project. It covers formal and communication support, and from the investment point of view, strict cooperation with local rules results in efficient project execution.  

We cannot forget the cooperation with the entities operating in the open access market. At the beginning of this year, we created the Open Allies Foundation with other Polish FTTH wholesale operators. We believe that together we can standardize our operations, exchange experience, and give a common voice in talks with our regulator. 

What are you most looking forward to at Network X?  

Network X will be a great opportunity to exchange experiences with the European operators, discuss the priorities, and share successes and lessons we learned from our previous projects and investments.  

I will have the pleasure to participate in the panel on the impact of external factors on fibre rollout (such as regulation, governance, investment, and consolidation). From my perspective, it is extremely interesting, and I am looking forward to the discussion. 

See you at Network X!