Fudged broadband report damages case for independent Openreach

I wanted to put pen to paper today and explain a few things about the tone of our coverage of the British Infrastructure Group’s ‘Broadbad’ report, which was released over the weekend of 23-4 January.

In the report, put together by the Conservatives’ Grant Shapps, a group of over 100 MPs renewed called for the forcible split of Openreach from BT, which is set to be decided upon very soon now.

Some of our regular readers and commenters may feel that the story is critical not of BT, but of BT’s critics. In this case they would be right to feel that.

I have spent a long time deliberating over whether or not BT and Openreach should be forcibly prised apart by the regulator, because I genuinely think that on the whole, when it comes to the national broadband roll-out, BT has tried to make the best it could of a bad situation.

However, there is much to criticise – a blatant and appalling lack of ambition around fibre, the utter fiasco of the Devon and Somerset BDUK contracts, and the often shoddy treatment of community projects, to name just three. All this reflects badly on BT. There is no doubt regulatory change is needed and I hope it will happen.

In general I think there are strong arguments for splitting off Openreach, and regard BT’s occasional hints that it would hinder investment as smelling a bit like blackmail.

But obfuscation and misrepresentation is damaging to public discourse and that is why our piece today on Computer Weekly openly discusses some of the criticisms made in the wake of the report’s release.

For instance, the ‘Broadbad’ report has it that BT has taken £1.7bn of taxpayers’ money, which is absolute nonsense. The figure of £1.7bn is the total amount of funding backing the BDUK scheme, this amount of money has not yet been spent and, following the award of some second-phase contracts to other suppliers, will not all go to BT.

It also makes similarly dubious claims about a universal service obligation of 10Mbps, and presents data that is close to a year out of date!

This excellent blog by a long-time BT critic expands in-depth on a number of the other faults and misrepresentations contained within the British Infrastructure Group’s report.

I cannot in good conscience tell Computer Weekly readers that this report is an accurate reflection of the facts surrounding the national broadband roll-out. If we are going to criticise BT, we have to get our act together!

The report was rushed, it was fudged, it poorly presents good arguments, and ultimately it damages the case for an independent Openreach.