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BT Openreach boss says UK telcos need 'predictable regulation'

Translation: Leave us alone, Ofcom!

Parliament & Internet Conf '15 BT's Openreach chief Joe Garner lobbied once again today for the one-time state monopoly to remain in one piece, even as most of its rivals continue to push for a break up of its infrastructure wing from the firm's mothership.

Speaking at an internet debate in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, Garner said that splitting Openreach up from BT would lead to investors losing confidence in its business.

"The current construct has been working pretty well," he told the audience, even as some in the cheap seats could be heard mumbling that "Openreach is run so badly."

A contentious point raised throughout the discussion was exactly how BT, and indeed other telcos, would deploy decent broadband speeds to the final five per cent of premises in Blighty.

"Our ambition is that we’d never say ‘no’ to a customer," Garner said.

UK communications watchdog Ofcom, which is conducting an extensive, once-in-a-decade review of Blighty's digital landscape (including mulling the demand for Openreach to be divorced from BT) has said that some urbanites, bumpkins and SMEs remained stuck in the slow lane when it comes to broadband connections.

However, Garner was, naturally enough, keen to put out a positive message about Openreach.

"I think we have, to a quite significant degree, improved our network," he argued.

But Ofcom's director of strategy Clive Carter said today that the regulator remained deeply concerned about quality of service in the ISP industry.

Openreach has come under repeated attack from its competitors – many of whom pay for access to BT's network – for sluggishly responding to their customer faults.

Garner batted aside much of the criticism, having earlier said that "predictable regulation" from Ofcom would allow "certainty and clarity" to keep BT investors happy.

However, rivals including Sky (though not, it turns out, Virgin Media) are unhappy with BT throwing its weight behind fibre while continuing to sweat its copper assets.

Sky director of comms Lyssa McGowan told the audience that Openreach's investment was "flat as a pancake." She added: "It's been taken away from copper."

She argued that Sky and other Openreach customers stood to lose the benefits of healthy competition in the copper market with the shift to the "fibre world".

McGowan claimed that BT's strategy was "hurting customers".

BT reported flat quarterly results to the City this morning and revealed that it had now pumped fibre (mostly over fibre-to-the-cabinet tech) to five million premises. ®

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