BT’s new chief executive, Philip Jansen, has urged the next government to put a full-fibre rollout at the very top of its to-do list as he warned the UK is growing hungrier for data.
While British homes currently have just five connected devices, BT predicts that number will soar to 100 within just five years as smart web devices enter UK households.
But Jansen warned that any rollout must work for BT’s shareholders, who have seen the telecom giant’s share price plunge 22 per cent over the past year.
Calling a full-fibre rollout a “no brainer” for the next government, Jansen said that whichever party wins the December election they must ensure Brits get full-fibre broadband as quickly as possible.
“Whoever is sitting in that seat in Number 10 will understand that fibre and digital infrastructure need to be built at rapid pace,” he said. “I hope it’s up there at the top of the list.”
“When we have some clarity I would really like whoever’s in that seat to prioritise and get it done as quickly as possible. You are connecting health services schools businesses and homes it’s going to connect people in a way they don’t get today.
“We need government to help us and regulation to accelerate investment so we can hit that.”
But Jansen, who replaced former boss Gavin Patterson in February, sounded a cloaked warning to the Labour party, which has threatened to nationalise a number of previously state-owned businesses.
“What we need is a regulated regime that establishes the situation where we can invest heavily and get the returns our investors should appropriately get,” he said.
He added: “BT is going to remain a public company and one that’s owned by its shareholders. If those shareholders don’t think they can make a return that is reasonable then it [the rollout] won’t happen.”
Shareholders have expressed fear that BT could raid its dividend to fund a full-fibre broadband rollout as it seeks to bring faster connections to 4m homes and businesses by March 2021.
But BT today maintained the dividend that Patterson cut heavily this time last year, handing investors an interim payment of 4.62p per share.
It also kept profit flat at £1.33bn for the six months to the end of September as revenue slipped two per cent to £11.5bn. BT’s share price rose 1.4 per cent to 204.7p by market close.
Jansen refused to rule out scrapping the dividend to fund the expansion as BT replaces copper connections with faster fibre optic cables, however.
“What we are looking at is how could we do fibre [rollout] at the rate we would like to – it’s probably another £600m extra. How do we find that? We need to get the balance right,” Jansen said.