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MPs turn up broadband heat on BT



Commons committee slams company’s performance in rolling out superfast infrastructure and calls for more open approach

BT should be forced to be more open and publish broadband speeds “at premises level” after the public has been left confused, MPs have said.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has sharply criticised the communications giant for under-investment and poor service in its delivery of the Government’s £780 million investment programme to provide superfast connections for homes and businesses.

In its newly published report on the issue it accuses BT of failing to invest in its Openreach arm to the tune of potentially hundreds of millions of pounds a year.

It also backs the idea of communications watchdog Ofcom splitting Openreach from BT, if the company fails to “offer the reforms and investment assurances necessary to satisfy our concerns”.

In particular, the committee has condemned the way “many households and businesses have been forced to hang on indefinitely” to find out if they would receive high speed broadband services.

Baffling example

BT has “tackled the easier-to-reach premises first”, while rival providers have been discouraged from making investments that could have delivered coverage to broader areas. One “baffling” example, highlighted by local councils in West Yorkshire, saw one half of a village receiving superfast broadband, while the other half missed out.

In addition, BT has refused to allow local bodies to publish information on costs, speeds and coverage, making it a “redline issue” in talks, according to the regional broadband delivery organisation Connecting Devon and Somerset.

“This has left a patchwork of premises that have not been reached, and much uncertainty among local residents as to whether or not they will be connected or receive improved speeds, and in turn has been compounded by repeated failure by BT to give accurate information on timing of deployment to consumers,” the report says. 

“Many counted as covered still appear unlikely to receive superfast speeds owing to the poor quality or length of the copper lines.”

It argues that the solution is for BT to publish broadband speeds at a premises level, allowing other companies to “step in to pick up gaps in coverage”. 

Publication priority

On releasing the report the committee stated: “Ofcom must insist on publication of this data, at the very least, for those BDUK [Broadband Delivery UK] intervention areas which have been covered using public money.”

The report also:

  • Warns the UK is “a laggard by international standards in providing fibre connectivity” – despite pioneering superfast broadband coverage.
  • Argues that the Government’s planned Universal Service Obligation (USO) - initially 10Mbps – would have to be 30Mbps by 2022.
  • Calls for the USO to be introduced “as early as 2018, once the BDUK rollout is due to complete” – rather than 2020 as planned.
  • Warns that EU state aid rules mean some postcodes can be “ineligible for BDUK coverage if even a single home receives a superfast service”.
  • Quotes Gavin Patterson, BT’s chief executive, arguing the delivery of fast broadband to “the last 5%” could cost up to £2 billion.
  • Calls for a revival of the scrapped broadband connection voucher scheme to help small businesses in remote rural areas pay for faster speeds.
  • Calls for “ducts and fibre”, owned by local authorities and housing associations for their own connectivity and CCTV, to be used to extend superfast broadband.

BT rejected the criticism, insisting: “Openreach investment is 30% higher than it was two years ago and it will grow again this year.

“We are in discussions with Ofcom about increasing the autonomy of Openreach and are hopeful that a settlement is possible that will meet the concerns of the committee.”

Image: iStock

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