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BT Openreach CEO ‘Frustrated’ At Constant BDUK Criticism

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Openreach CEO Liv Garfield says BDUK is on track and suggests it could use more government funding

Openreach CEO Liv Garfield said it was “massively frustrating” to have to defend BT’s involvement with the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, and claimed the government-funded initiative is beginning to bear fruit for those on slow broadband connections.

The government has been criticised for handing all of the money available as part of BDUK to BT, which is the sole participant in the procurement framework, with the National Audit Office (NAO) saying the project isn’t providing value for money and is running 22 months behind schedule. Meanwhile, MPs are accusing the company of blackmail, while others suggest BT has been overcharging for its services.

Despite all the bad press, speaking at an event discussing the non-BDUK funded Superfast Cornwall partnership, Garfield said the rollout was going to plan.

BDUK defence

Liv Garfield BT Openreach CEO“There have been lots of claims in the papers over the last few months about whether the UK is as far ahead or if BDUK is on schedule,” she said. “I think you know our view is that it has been massively frustrating to have a programme going this well and still having to counter negative press.

“I think the stats show they are not true. There’s work underway in 35 areas and we’re ahead of schedule in terms of the amounts of homes and cabinet passed at this stage in the UK. Already there are people enjoying access to fibre and changing their lives in 13 BDUK areas. I’m sure if you’re one of those people, it feels like a game changer.”

Garfield implied that the reason that BT was the only participant in the government procurement framework was because it was the only company with the resources and finances to make a long-term investment.

Economies of scale

“Many companies said they’d like to invest in fibre, but when it came down to it, it’s an expensive long-term payback,” she explained. “It takes really great engineering and it takes an act of faith.”

She said BT’s fibre network was adding 325,000 premises a month and had now reached 17 million premises, meaning that 73 percent of the UK could now access superfast broadband.

“This is amazing, considering we only began this journey in 2009,” she added, confirming the company planned to reach 19 million homes by spring 2014 and that it was a “natural assumption that we’ll be looking at 20 million homes by the summer.”

BT’s future

BT Infinity fibre houseWhen TechWeekEurope asked her whether BT would be interested in bidding for some of the £230 million allocated by the government to extend superfast broadband to areas not covered by BDUK, Garfirled replied that it was “great that the government wants to go further.”

She explained that the technology had changed so much since the company first laid fibre in 2009, possibly referring to the recent trial of Huawei G.FAST fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp) technology that could make it possible to offer faster broadband speeds using existing copper infrastructure, and that BT believed there could be a business case in extending fibre to 95 percent of the UK.

However she added the caveat that any BT involvement would depend on the government for the funding. It is widely thought that the government is interested in using 4G and other mobile broadband technologies to improve access to superfast broadband, and has reportedly invited mobile operators to register their interest.

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