BT finally inching its way to full-fibre broadband at last

Computer Weekly has been banging the drum for full-fibre broadband for several years. We’ve been critical of BT for its reticence and reluctance to embrace fibre to the premises (FTTP) as the future for the UK’s digital infrastructure.

BT would often tell us that FTTP is not needed. That the demand simply isn’t there. Other technologies based on existing copper cabling are more than adequate for years to come. Rival providers like Sky and TalkTalk are simply playing PR games when they call for BT to be forced to build a fully fibred broadband Britain.

We also supported calls for Openreach – BT’s local infrastructure arm – to be separated from the mothership to encourage competition and create a regulatory environment focused on building FTTP. But BT told us that Openreach simply wouldn’t be able to make the necessary investment without BT Retail as its core in-house partner to drive demand. Those pesky rivals couldn’t be relied upon.

So we’ll try not to be churlish this week, and instead congratulate Openreach, newly separated from its parent company, in announcing a consultation with the industry on rolling out full-fibre broadband.

This is the new regulatory environment and the newly structured Openreach working the way everyone said it should. It’s BT bowing, finally, to the inevitable and starting its way towards FTTP for all. It’s several years too late, but hey, better now than later.

Of course, it’s taken a change of rhetoric from the government, which now promotes the idea of full-fibre after years of supporting the BT line that fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) is all that matters. And it’s taken the market to send out strong signals that everyone else sees FTTP as the way forward – witness BT rival Gigaclear securing £111m in equity funding earlier this month to support its fibre roll-out that includes many of the rural areas BT deemed uneconomic even for FTTC.

We wouldn’t want to suggest either, that BT’s plunging share price, £528m accounting scandal at its Italian subsidiary, £300m restructuring, 4,000 job losses, £42m fine from Ofcom over Ethernet installations, or the associated £300m in compensation payments, had anything to do with the need for some positive news.

No – the important thing here is simply that we’re getting there, at last. If the UK digital economy wants to be competitive as we leave the EU, we need world-class, world-leading infrastructure as a key incentive to attract companies to invest in this country. For all our sakes, as well as theirs, let’s hope BT gets us there in time.