Watchdog set to crack down on BT’s Openreach

Billy Bambrough
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BT chief executive Gavin Patterson has been working to try and hold on to Openreach (Source: Getty)

The telecoms watchdog Ofcom will tomorrow unveil new service targets and reforms for BT’s infrastructure arm Openreach.

The latest step in Ofcom’s long-running Strategic Review of Digital Communications is expected to result in further autonomy for the division but will stop short of full separation.

Ofcom will tomorrow morning open its interim findings to consultation — a process that is expected to last between 10 and 12 weeks.

It’s thought Ofcom will threaten BT with a forced break-up unless Openreach dramatically improves service levels. In February Ofcom stopped short of demanding Openreach be hived off from BT, but said the option was still on the table.

Ofcom may order BT to create an autonomous board for Openreach.

BT’s rivals have been calling for Openreach to be run more independently of its parent due to concerns it gives BT preferential treatment.

Openreach owns much of Britain’s high-speed fibre-optic broadband network but the likes of TalkTalk, Sky, and Vodafone say it doesn’t allow them easy enough access to its cable network and local exchanges.

Earlier this year BT promised to invest £6bn over the next three years in its broadband network and also allowed rival telecom providers access to its ducts and poles.

In February TalkTalk boss Dido Harding slammed Ofcom for “kicking the Openreach can down the road”, after the telecoms regulator decided not to split off the infrastructure arm from BT. The decision sparked concerns that the regulator will not follow through with its promises.

The communications watchdog went as far as to say BT must open up its cable network to rivals, including TalkTalk, Sky and Vodafone.

Ofcom will tomorrow give details on how it will strengthen Openreach’s independence from BT; the progress it has made so far on creating more competition between broadband networks, and an update on improving quality of service for all telecoms customers.

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