ISPs call on businesses to speak out against Ofcom's proposals

Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone launch Fix Britain's Internet Campaign and encourage businesses and consumers to make their voices heard during consultation process

UK internet service providers have launched a campaign designed to rally the troops as Ofcom launches its consultation on changing wholesale broadband regulations.

The 'Fix Britain’s Internet' campaign, founded by Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and the Federation of Communication Services, hopes to encourage businesses and consumers to speak out against BT’s continued ownership of Openreach.   

The campaign follows just a day after Ofcom set out a proposal in which Openreach would become a distinct company within BT Group. With its own directors, its own board and a separate strategy to control budget allocation, Ofcom said that the new model would give Openreach the autonomy needed to provide a better and fairer standard of service.

Ofcom has opened up the proposed reforms to a ten-week consultation period and is inviting input from both businesses and consumers. Unsurprisingly, the ISPs are already criticising the new plan.

Dido Harding, CEO of TalkTalk, said: “Ofcom’s proposals simply don’t go far enough, and we know many people up and down the country feel the same way. This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for them to tell the regulator directly they don’t want a halfway house for another decade, they want truly radical change now.”

Neil Watson, Entanet’s head of service, commented: “If there are improvements to responsiveness and service levels, it will be most welcome. But that’s a big ‘if’ in our view.”

“For years, ISPs, CPs and customers have had to endure poor service levels from Openreach. But we don’t see how this organisational change will make Openreach perform better. It will still be part of BT, within the walls of the larger organisation. Until it is completely outside and independent of BT, we don’t believe it can ever deliver truly fair and balanced service levels to the industry and to the UK’s businesses and consumers,” he added.

Jaime Fink, co-founder of fixed wireless provider, Mimosa, said that the proposed changes did little to address the country’s inadequate broadband infrastructure.

“Despite today’s ruling, the infrastructure problems facing the UK market that prevent the rollout of a nationwide next-generation broadband network still remain,” he said.

“The DSL foundations that underpin much of the UK’s broadband network simply do not offer the bandwidth to support today’s internet applications and meet the demands of tomorrow’s increasingly data rich services. Openreach must look at new technologies that can enable it to profitably deliver a sustainable broadband network …Today’s ruling presents a fantastic opportunity for new broadband solution providers to make their voices heard, and ensure that Openreach takes its strategies in new bold directions for the benefit of the UK marketplace.”

While the service providers are lobbying hard for complete separation of Openreach and the adoption of new technology, many analysts and market watchers say that the proposed changes make the best of a bad situation.

Kester Mann, principal analyst at CCS Insight, said that Ofcom’s proposals are about as radical and stringent as can be expected under the circumstances.

“The decision not to force BT to split Openreach comes as little surprise,” Mann said. “It would have been the most controversial action the regulator could have taken and would still not have offered guaranteed improvements for customers. Indeed, the time to implement, associated costs and market disruption – potentially leading to years of legal battles – would have threatened short-term infrastructure investment.”

Cable.co.uk telecoms expert Dan Howdle said he saw the proposal as a covert first step in complete separation.

“This move is clearly the first in a multi-stage process toward severing Openreach from the BT Group completely,” Howdle said. “If permanent separation were to happen, existing staff would need to be reassigned, a new board appointed, budgets allotted, and it would need to become discreet owner of its existing infrastructural assets – all of which is exactly what is happening today. Full separation is now inevitable."

The only industry voice entirely satisfied with the proposed changes, was that of Gavin Patterson, BT Group chief executive, who could hardly keep the smile of his face as he did the press rounds yesterday.

“We have listened to Ofcom and industry and are introducing significant changes to meet their concerns,” he said in a statement. “These changes will make Openreach more independent and transparent than it is today, something both Ofcom and industry have requested.”

“Openreach is committed to delivering better service, broader coverage and faster speeds and these changes will enable it to do just that. Our proposals can form the basis for a fair and sustainable regulatory settlement and we believe they can also enable Ofcom to bring its Review to a speedier conclusion.” 

Businesses interested in getting involved with the Fix Britain’s Internet campaign, can do so here.

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