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Openreach CEO defends current operating model

Openreach CEO Joe Garner says that separating the organisation from BT would make no sense in light of improvements to its service

BT Openreach has consistently invested in the UK’s national broadband infrastructure and vastly improved against its customer service metrics, and for this reason Ofcom would be wrong to force BT to divest it in its strategic digital communications review.

This was the view put forward by Openreach CEO Joe Garner following the publication of Openreach’s latest key performance indicators for the first quarter of 2015/16.

In a briefing document, Openreach laid out seven key metrics where it has seen improvement in the past 18 months, covering areas such as appointment availability and attendance, fault fixing, and Ethernet growth.

It said that compared with January 2014, when Openreach installation appointments had a wait period of 11 working days, as of April 2015 that had come down to seven days, against a target of 12. It offered just 0.8% of customers an appointment outside of the 12-day SLA, compared with 12% in January 2014, and faults were being fixed within agreed timescales in 77% of cases, compared with just 66% in January 2014.

On the business side, its mean time to install Ethernet where a new network build is not needed has dropped from 40 working days in January 2014 to 27 currently, and where a new network build was required it had fallen from 69 to 65 working days.

Discussing the latest statistics, which Openreach put out just days after Ofcom confirmed outright that it would look into the future of the organisation as part of its digital communications review, Garner refuted suggestions that Openreach's future might lie in a co-operative model, with shared risk and ownership, giving players such as Sky or TalkTalk a stake in the underlying infrastructure.

“We have consistently invested in Openreach in good times and in bad,” Garner told Computer Weekly, “and the current set-up has allowed that to happen.

“There is evidence that despite the massive shift in customer behaviour we are responding to that and improving, and that is only possible because we can access the massive resource and expertise of many people in the [BT] Group.”

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Litigation and arguments

In an interview in the Telegraph published over the weekend, BT CEO Gavin Patterson went further, warning of 10 years of “litigation and arguments” if BT was forced to split from Openreach, and said that would distract attention from and put the investment made so far in fibre broadband at risk.

CCS Insight director of multi-play and video Paolo Pescatore said BT would most likely retain control of Openreach in the end.

“The major focus of the latest strategic review of the digital communications market is all about how well competition is delivering benefits to consumers and businesses. With this in mind, it seems that a full separation is unlikely as stated by Ofcom,” he said. “Furthermore, Ofcom has acknowledged that the current system, whereby BT operates Openreach as a separate unit, has provided choice.”

Formerly HSBC’s UK boss and a member of the Financial Services Authority’s practitioner panel, Garner has made much of his desire to tackle some of the deep-rooted customer service problems that have plagued BT Openreach since he joined the organisation in 2014.

Under his guidance, Openreach has been actively retraining its extensive workforce and empowering engineers to do more first time, and is exploring how to make more of the information it generates useful to consumers though innovations such as live-tracking of engineers.

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