All of the telephone lines (and therefore broadband connections) in the UK are serviced by Openreach who effectively hold a monopoly over the countries internet. They have their own management and control structure but remain very much ‘A BT Group Business’. It’s not surprising then that for years other suppliers like Sky and Talktalk have made some loud noises about the objectivity of Openreach and the prudence of having such an important part of the country’s future development held by one private company. Now OFCOM have announced a review into the situation with a strong hint that Openreach could be made fully independent or even face competition from other supplier-based infrastructure companies.
The upgrade of Britain’s network is, without sugar coating it, slow. Compared with the rest of Europe our average speed is 14th and other regions like Asia and Australia leave us for dust. Part of this can be put down the compromise BT has put in place on upgrades. The majority of countries are installing fiber optic connections directly to the premises offering speeds of up to 1000mbps.
In the UK however the fiber is only being supplied to the cabinet with the existing copper cable taking it to the building, restricting the speed to a maximum of 80mbps. BT maybe right in saying that 80mbps is all anyone could need and faster speeds aren’t necessary. They do seem to have forgotten, however, that dial-up used to be fast enough, then broadband was the absolute limit that an office could use.
BT recently came under attack from Sky that the lack of investment has delayed growth in some regions resulting in a negative effect on the country and the economy. Mai Fyfield, Chief Strategy Officer for Sky Broadband, wrote in an opinion piece for The Daily Telegraph on the 13th of September, “Underinvestment by BT has led to unacceptable levels of faults and service problems that continue to affect consumers and businesses… An independent Openreach would be a new, highly investable, FTSE 100 company that could catalyse the transformation of Britain’s broadband infrastructure,”
She then refuted BT’s claims about the difficulties in disengaging from Openreach; “BT constantly emphasises that Openreach is entirely functionally separate, with its own assets, employees and accounts. So it is contradictory to argue that the next step of full separation is impracticable.”
BT’s counter arguments do hold some weight. To separate such an important part of the country’s infrastructure is to invite uncertainty and tribulation. If we could reasonably expect a seamless transition there wouldn’t be an issue but only the truly naïve would expect that. The alternative of allowing other suppliers to start their own cabling arms would also mean potentially dozens of companies being asked to work in harmony over a single telephone cabinet. In practical terms, that’s not very practical.
Initial results from the review aren’t expected until January so don’t expect any change until the at least the end of next year but there can at least be some muted hope that our current broadband woes may be coming to an end.