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Soon Broadband May Not Mean BT

A standard broadband connection is rapidly becoming too slow for the needs of a modern office and, if you’re like me, typing your postcode into a fiber availability website is an exercise in futility.

So it’s with some muted celebration that OFCOM have announced a review of the way lines and exchanges are upgraded with the strong possibility that Openreach, BT’s pet infrastructure company, will be taken away from them to make an entirely independent organisation.

For years now BT has faced accusations from other broadband providers, such as Sky and Talktalk, that the progress in upgrading the UK’s network has been at a snail’s pace and a lack of investment has delayed growth in some regions resulting in a negative effect on the country and the economy. Mai Fyfield, Chief Strategy Officer for Sky Broadband, wrote in an opinion piece for The Daily Telegraph on the 13th of September,

“Underinvestment by BT has led to unacceptable levels of faults and service problems that continue to affect consumers and businesses… An independent Openreach would be a new, highly investable, FTSE 100 company that could catalyse the transformation of Britain’s broadband infrastructure,”

She then refuted BT’s claims about the difficulties in disengaging from Openreach,

“BT constantly emphasises that Openreach is entirely functionally separate, with its own assets, employees and accounts. So it is contradictory to argue that the next step of full separation is impracticable.”

Another alternative being looked at by OFCOM is allowing other suppliers to set up their own infrastructure companies to upgrade exchanges. In terms of aphorisms competition means a better service for the consumer as companies fight to keep people signed to their service. In practical terms, however, it’s not difficult to foresee major difficulties as three or four companies are forced to work together over one exchange.

It’s not difficult to see why BT are fighting change so strongly. Openreach, despite ostensibly being a separate company, allows them a near monopoly over the UK’s phone lines and control over which parts of the country get upgraded. It’s not surprising that rumours circulate regularly about particular areas that are heavily subscribed to BT competitors being the last to receive upgrades.

OFCOM are receiving petitions from interested parties until the 8th of October after which they’ll start the review process. Initial findings aren’t expected until January of next year so don’t expect any major announcements until well into 2016/17. For rural businesses and those stuck with antiquated exchanges it could spell a significant step forward in what you can achieve with your broadband.

Posted to In the Media

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