Digital Minister ‘Concerned’ At Speed Of BT Openreach Split Progress

Fibre Broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012

Minister for the Digital Economy Matt Hancock reiterates government’s full fibre vision and has a warning for BT and Openreach

The government has expressed concerns that the legal separation of BT and Openreach is taking too long and could ask regulator Ofcom to intervene unless more progress is made.

Speaking at the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) 2017 Conference, minister for the digital economy Matt Hancock reiterated his calls for a “full fibre” UK and for the country to lead the way in 5G development.

This, he claimed, would be achieved through government support, the easing of regulations and the promotion of alternative broadband providers.

concept network fibre chip abstract network broadband © Toria Shutterstock

Full fibre Britain

But Hancock was also adamant that the changes agreed between BT and Ofcom about the structure of Openreach needed to take place for this ‘full fibre’ vision to be achieved.

“I believe that the market for full fibre will look very different to the market for copper connections, and we want to see a fully competitive market for full fibre with a panoply of potential players,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure one of the reasons so many players large and small are getting going at scale now is to play a part in that competitive market in the future.

“While I welcome the work Openreach are doing to reposition themselves, I am concerned at the speed BT Group are moving in formally implementing the agreed split. Unless we make significant progress very soon we will have to talk to Ofcom about what would be needed to make this happen.”

The agreement between BT and Ofcom has removed the threat of a full separation that would see Openreach become an entirely different company – for now. Hancock said the agreed model would be judged both in terms of how much BT invested in the independent Openreach and how it works with third party communications providers like Vodafone and Sky.

BT has also offered to deliver the government’s universal service obligation (USO) for broadband on a voluntary basis in a bid to avoid further regulation. This is currently being considered as part of a consultation but Hancock said nothing had been taken off the table.

“We welcome their proposal, and we are considering both options on the table, but unless BT can convince us they will deliver universal coverage by 2020 we will have no option but to go down the regulatory route,” he told the audience.

Hancock naturally praised the government’s role in boosting adoption and the rise of the digital economy but said the amount of times he is questioned on broadband is evidence that there is still much to do.

“Like many of you, I often meet interesting people in my job. But there’s one serious frustration. And that is, just as I’m talking to them about the many fascinating things they do, instead they want to badger me about their broadband. Every day,” he lamented.

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