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BT unveils ultrafast broadband pledge card to support digital economy

At an event in London, BT sets out four key pledges around broadband and connectivity to ensure and secure the digital future of the UK

BT CEO Gavin Patterson has set out four key pledges around broadband speed, reach and regulation to help guarantee that UK plc is able to deliver on the promise of digital.

An Analysys Mason report released on 21 September 2015 suggested that, despite the controversies that have dogged BT, the UK ranked higher up the charts in measures such as broadband speed, availability, take-up and market competitiveness than many thought.

Speaking at BT’s Delivering Britain’s Digital Future event in London, Patterson said BT’s network build and investment had played a key role in building the foundations of the digital economy, and that his four pledges would help support and maintain the lead that the UK has built up.

BT’s four pledges are as follows:

  1. To support the government in delivering a new universal minimum broadband service speed of 5-10Mbps, exploiting new technology such as long-reach VDSL and wireless to the cabinet, and existing technology, such as satellite, to enable everyone in the UK to take advantage of the most popular online services.
  2. To extend fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) broadband roll-out beyond 95% of UK premises, and to work with government, if necessary, to support a future public funding model that would help achieve that. Patterson said BT would adopt a “never say no” model when it came to reaching the most remote communities, and said it would explore more innovative funding and technical solutions to accomplish this.
  3. To deliver ultrafast broadband speeds of 300-500Mbps to 10 million premises around the UK by the end of 2020, moving early on the next generation of broadband speeds with promising technology such as G.fast. Patterson also committed to a faster and deeper roll-out of fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband offering speeds of 1Gbps “where that is the right solution”.
  4. To match and outperform when it came to customer service expectations, harnessing BT’s back-end resources to improve not just its own customer service standards, but the standards that comms providers operating over the Openreach network are able to provide.

Ofcom support

Patterson called on both the government and, more importantly, the telecoms regulator Ofcom, to support its ambitions. “This success story has been driven by massive investment and a competitive landscape that has stimulated competition and take-up,” he said.

“These pledges depend on Ofcom and the government to ensure the right regulatory and policy framework exists, but have the potential to underpin the digital economy for years to come,” he added.

Fighting talk

Following the publication of an open letter from rival broadband providers, including Sky and TalkTalk, that renewed calls for the structural separation of BT from Openreach, Paolo Pescatore, director of multiplay and video and CCS Insight, said BT’s pledge card showed Patterson was spooked and wanted to come out fighting ahead of Ofcom’s market review and the Competition and Markets Authority’s probe of its EE takeover.

“BT is putting up a strong defence. Its latest pledges will address some of the shortcomings raised by its rivals, notably investment and service quality. However, this is unlikely to satisfy its rivals, and they will still call for full separation, lower prices and greater access to BT’s network,” said Pescatore.

“While there are merits of BT’s acquisition of EE and retention of Openreach, regulators will be duty bound to listen to the comments of their competitors who will feel less positive about the transaction and the increasing monopolisation of the telecoms sector.”

Citing a KPMG report that suggested BT’s commitments could deliver between £20bn and £30bn of value to the UK economy by 2025 if BT achieved its ambitions, David Thomas, global lead at KPMG’s economics and regulation practice, called on Ofcom to reconsider the idea of structurally separating Openreach from BT.

“It is not clear to us that you would get that benefit if you went down the structural separation route,” he said.

Speaking at BT’s event, Openreach CEO Joe Garner stuck to his guns: “Openreach, supported by BT, can deliver the telecoms infrastructure that Britain needs for the 21st century. We have the track record, ambition and commitment to deliver,” he said.

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