Will legally separating BT and Openreach be enough to give broadband customers a better deal?

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Ofcom did not go as far as some hoped (Source: Getty)

Kate Devine, head of home communications at MoneySuperMarket, says Yes.

Legally separating BT and Openreach should be seen as a victory for broadband customers.

It will offer a better deal for many, built on the promise to treat all customers equally in terms of repairs and services, in comparison to the current system, which is often unfair on those who are not BT customers. It’s also, of course, good news for the 15 per cent of the UK waiting for fibre internet to be rolled-out into their premises.

The prospect of a separation has been rumbling on now for two years, and the decision means the speculation can end and the focus can go back to where it should be – on improving the UK’s broadband service and fibre delivery.

Ofcom’s Sharon White has indicated that this won’t be the end of the broadband reforms – once separated as a legal entity, consumers can expect to start seeing tighter service-level agreements around engineers for repairs and automatic compensation sent via a cheque in the post for service issues.

Daniel Mahoney, deputy director at the Centre for Policy Studies, says No.

The issues surrounding BT Openreach have long plagued the UK’s broadband market.

BT Openreach has failed to invest adequately in its inherited infrastructure and Ofcom has identified that a lack of access to Openreach’s ducts and poles is inhibiting competition.

Legal separation will no doubt lead to more accountability. However, Openreach will remain part of the BT Group, leaving a fundamental conflict of interest unaddressed. BT will continue to use its own infrastructure to provide services to customers and many of its competitors will still be forced to use this infrastructure.

Only a fully structurally separated Openreach – with various investors – would promote more innovation and investment in higher speed broadband. Despite leaving this option on the table last year, Ofcom has disappointingly decided to settle on a watered-down version of separation, which will offer only minimal long-term benefits to broadband customers.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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