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BT CEO hints at change of direction on FTTP broadband

BT boss Gavin Patterson tells a conference he is working to enable Openreach to accelerate deployment of FTTP

BT CEO Gavin Patterson has told a conference that his organisation is working to accelerate the roll-out of ultrafast fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband.

Speaking at the Media and Telecoms 2016 and Beyond event in London on 8 March 2016, Patterson said: “We’re working on improvements to allow Openreach to accelerate the deployment of fibre to the premises significantly.”

According to the Daily Telegraph, Patterson said Openreach would explore deploying a mix of broadband delivery technology. It might also re-explore connecting premises that were previously deemed uneconomical to address.

Ofcom’s recent market review placed obligations on BT’s infrastructure arm, Openreach, and retained the threat of full structural separation of the two as an incentive to improve. 

“It brought us closer to a positive outcome,” said Patterson. However, he added that there remains a number of unanswered questions, and the threat of structural separation was “destabilising”.

Breaking new ground?

It remains unclear whether or not Patterson’s remarks hinted at a wholesale change of direction at BT, or whether he was expanding on previous pledges he made.

BT has plans to bring G.fast – a copper-based ultrafast technology that critics regard as something of a halfway house – to more than 10 million homes and businesses by the end of the decade. It also claims that FTTP remains a component of its overall strategy.

Equally, it is not clear to what extent the retained threat of structural separation is now influencing internal thinking at BT.

At the beginning of March 2016, a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee heard evidence that Ofcom’s decision not to separate BT and Openreach meant the telco was left with a number of loopholes to wriggle through.

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“Ofcom seems to have an extraordinary belief that Openreach can act as an independent company and, at the same time, ought to be beholden to the shareholders of BT,” economist and Oxford University professor Dieter Helm told members of Parliament.

Helm, a specialist in energy policy, drew on previous major infrastructure decisions such as the 1997 demerger of British Gas, when he described the decision as “regulatory burdensome and unsatisfactory”.

Explaining the decision not to force full structural separation, Ofcom CEO Sharon White said it was preferable to deal with the competitive issues in the broadband market without resorting to drastic measures that would inevitably lead to lengthy courtroom battles with Patterson.

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