Bryant, the shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, believes that Openreach should be fully separated from BT if the UK wants to meet its broadband targets. He believes that the current set-up, together with ineffective government broadband schemes, is harming both consumers and businesses.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Bryant said: “Although BT Openreach, which owns the existing copper network and delivers the rollout, is nominally at arm’s length from BT, it is right that Ofcom is now considering whether this provides an unfair advantage to BT and whether it should be split off in the interests of transparency and fair competition.”
“The situation is so bad that Ofcom’s review should work on the presumption that Openreach should be split from the rest of BT unless their review produces conclusive evidence to the contrary,” he added.
The shadow secretary also criticised the regulator for being too cautious, and said that it is about time the government revisited its “overly burdensome” appeals process.
He believes that “the system has failed to deliver”, as “a swathe of the country (is) still travelling at a snail’s pace digitally”.
The UK government is aiming for 95% superfast broadband coverage by 2017, with 100% covered by the end of the current parliament. To date, its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme has connected more than three million properties in areas that are not included in commercial deployments to fibre.
However, Bryant believes that the government and BT have failed to deliver the speeds and coverage that the UK needs to take advantage of the promised entertainment, economic and e-government benefits.
Bryant was especially critical of Openreach, which he believes has been given an unfair advantage by the BDUK, receiving almost all of the money on offer. BT’s rivals are able to access the Openreach network on a wholesale basis, but claim that the current structure is harming competition and that Openreach itself is too slow to fix faults and install new lines.
The Labour MP wants Openreach to be held accountable for its poor quality of service at the very least, including delays in repairs, missed appointments, and months of waiting to switch service providers.
What Ofcom says
Ofcom has admitted that it is contemplating the split, alongside other options, as part of its once-a-decade review of the UK communications market. The last of these reviews actually resulted in the creation of Openreach, back in 2005.
The regulator has previously faced calls from BT’s competitors Talk Talk and Sky to separate the provider from Openreach. The much-debated issue has caused tensions between the companies to escalate, with BT responding by criticising the ‘staggering hypocrisy’ of its rivals.