News: BT hits back, saying that 99 percent of premises in Anna Soubry’s constituency have superfast broadband access available.
Former business minister Anna Soubry has added her voice to critics of BT’s ownership of Openreach, saying that its figures for the proliferation of broadband in the UK do not reflect what’s going on in the “real world”.
Soubry, who resigned from her position as Minister for Small Business in July 2016, called for Openreach to be split off from BT.
She said in the Telegraph that listening to “real people” had made her “incredibly suspicious that it's a meaningless statistic.”
Soubry told BBC Radio 4 that she had experienced BT’s “nightmarish” performance in her own life as a consumer, as well as what she had heard from constitutents.
Soubry’s intervention comes weeks after Ofcom implemented reforms to Openreach’s governance and structure. These reforms were not enough to appease BT’s rivals such as TalkTalk and Sky.
BT rejected Soubry’s comments, citing independent data (from thinkbroadband.com) stating that 91 percent of UK premises had access to superfast speeds and that this would rise to 95 percent by the end of 2017.
“99 per cent of premises in Ms Soubry’s constituency can access superfast broadband speeds of 24Mb/s and above whilst more than 90 per cent can get ultrafast speeds of 100Mbps and above via alternative networks.
“We disagree with Ms Soubry’s comments regarding the separation of Openreach. We fail to see how a smaller, independent Openreach would be able to invest the £1.4bn each year that it does currently.”
The discrepancy Soubry has identified between the experience of customers and the availability of broadband might be due to the fact that the statistics refer to availability of broadband, rather than actual customer access.
The recently announced reforms from Ofcom will see Openreach becoming a legally separate company within the BT Group.
These follow the findings from Ofcom’s Digital Communications Review in February. These had included plans to overhaul the governance structure of Openreach and plans to force BT to open its ducts to competitors.
It will have its own Board of Directors established and be required to make decisions “in the interests of all Openreach's customers, and to promote the success of the company.
The board will have a majority of non-executive directors including the Chair. The non-executives would be appointed and removed by BT in consultation with Ofcom.
In addition, Ofcom wants a CEO that is accountable to the new Openreach board, not to the BT Group. This CEO would be responsible for other executive appointments. Openreach would not directly report to BT Group unless Ofcom agreed to this.
Openreach will also be made to consult with customers formally, such as Sky and TalkTalk, on large-scale investments. These could initially be discussed without it being disclosed to BT Group. Openreach employees will also be employed by this new company, rather than BT Group. Openreach would retain assets it already controls.
Finally, Openreach will have to develop its own strategy and be branded independently.
“This model would provide Openreach with the greatest degree of independence from BT Group that is possible without incurring the costs and disruption – to industry and customers – associated with separating the customers entirely,” said a statement from Ofcom.
The announcement follows accusations earlier in July from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that BT had under-invested in the infrastructure subsidiary.