Did you hear the one about the time Openreach CEO Clive Selley visited the countryside and was shocked, shocked I say, to discover that people in rural areas have difficulty accessing fit-for-purpose broadband?
No, it’s not fake news. This happened.
According to the Shropshire Star, Selley was introduced to a number of rural business owners who are struggling with slow broadband, after being invited to take a look around by local MP Owen Paterson.
Among others, Selley met the owner of a health and safety practice, who is struggling to communicate with his clients, the owners of a holiday home who have to keep apologising to guests who can’t get online.
According to Paterson: “It was interesting to see how shocked the head of Openreach was to hear of so many problems.”
On the assumption that Owen Paterson wasn’t telling porkies to get his name in the newspaper, this strikes me as a troubling trend. Here’s why.
A long-time Openreach insider, Selley, who replaced Joe Garner as CEO in early 2016, has established a reputation as something of a technological whizz, and is particularly hot on emerging delivery technologies, such as G.fast, that are helping Openreach deliver faster services to its internet service provider (ISP) customers.
Nobody disputes the commercial realities faced by Openreach, that super- and ultrafast fibre-based connections – by which I mean either fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – mean that the organisation naturally lines up the areas where it can make the most money off its network for an earlier upgrade – that means towns and cities, where the majority of the population now live.
But Openreach is still charged with delivering fit-for-purpose broadband across the whole of the UK, not just those areas where sound commercial sense dictates it will see a better return on investment from ISPs reselling access to its infrastructure.
So the fact that its leader does not appear to have a full grasp of the situation on the ground in some of the UK’s more out-of-the-way spots is deeply worrying.
People who live in the countryside are the ones who have shouted loudest about their often dismal broadband services, and they will shout louder still as they are inevitably once again bypassed by G.fast and FTTP. It’s why the altnets get such strong traction and have so much goodwill in the areas they serve: they understand the concerns of rural folk.
But judging by Clive Selley’s visit to Shropshire, it would appear that Openreach does not.
Thanks to broadband comparison site uSwitch, which first brought the story to our attention.