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BT chief urges PM to act decisively on broadband

BT’s new chief executive Philip Jansen says he is ready to help meet Boris Johnson’s broadband roll-out goals, but warns the cost will be high

BT’s chief executive Philip Jansen has said the firm is ready to do its best to make prime minister Boris Johnson’s goal of bringing forward the completion of the national full-fibre broadband roll-out to 2025 a reality, but said the government needs to act decisively to have a hope of doing so.

Last year, former chancellor Philip Hammond set the ambitious target of having a national full-fibre – also known as fibre-to-the-premises or FTTP – broadband network in place by 2033, but this goal was rubbished by Johnson on the campaign trail.

“If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full-fibre to every home in the land not in the mid-2030s, but in five years at the outside,” said Johnson.

“Let’s say goodbye to the UK’s mañana approach to broadband and unleash full-fibre for all by 2025.”

Speaking as BT unveiled its financial results for the first quarter of its fiscal year, which closed on 30 June 2019, Jansen said it was more important than ever that BT, the government and Ofcom worked together to reach an agreement on how the group could obtain a fair return on the investment it will have to make.

According to the Financial Times, he warned that a six-year national roll-out could cost more than £30bn, and would require Openreach to massively expand its current recruitment drive.

“We welcome the government’s ambition for full-fibre broadband across the country and we are confident we will see further steps to stimulate investment,” said Jansen. “We are ready to play our part to accelerate the pace of roll-out in a manner that will benefit both the country and our shareholders, and we are engaging with the government and Ofcom on this.”

For the first three months of its fiscal year, BT reported total revenues of £5.63bn, down 1% year-on-year, and adjusted Ebitda of £1.96bn, also down 1% on the year-ago period.

By business unit, Openreach saw its sales tick up 1%, but this was offset by declines at BT Consumer (1%), BT Enterprise (5%) and Global Services (also 5%), although earnings at the troubled Global Services Unit rose 18% thanks to a combination of a number of one-off events, and reduced costs from the BT Group’s ongoing transformation plan.

BT’s transformation plan, which began in May 2018 under previous boss Gavin Patterson, calls for the BT Group to shed £1.5bn in costs by 2021, and will also see 13,000 staffers made redundant.

BT is also rationalising its property portfolio, and recently agreed the sale of its landmark BT Centre next door to London’s St Paul’s Cathedral for £210m. It has also signed a lease on a new headquarters in Aldgate, on the edge of the City.

Read more about full-fibre

  • Openreach has announced 36 new locations in line for its expanding full-fibre broadband network build, with Scotland a particular focus after the announcement of additional rates relief.
  • Cable TV operator Virgin Media is betting that improvements to the Docsis standard will enable it to offer gigabit broadband without full-fibre.
  • CityFibre is to extend its network to more homes and businesses in the latest expansion of its roll-out.

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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