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UK Land Owners Warn Ofcom NOT to Split Openreach from BT

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 (2:08 pm) - Score 940
wireless_rural_uk_mast

The Country Land and Business Association, which represents thousands of landowners across England and Wales, has given BT a bit of unexpected support by warning Ofcom not to split the telco from control of their national network (Openreach) as it would create too much of a “distraction“.

Most of the time the CLA has to walk a very difficult line. On the one hand they often call for more action to bring faster broadband into rural areas, while on the other they remain bitterly opposed to any reduction in land access charges that could make the delivery of such infrastructure significantly more viable (here).

In that sense it’s hard to know which side of the fence the CLA would come down on in the seemingly endless debate over Ofcom’s Strategic Review, which is currently trying to decide whether or not BT’s network access division, Openreach, should be split out into a completely separate business.

Today we learn that the CLA does have significant concerns about rural broadband and Openreach’s performance, although they fear that the potential infrastructure upgrade delays that could stem from a BT split might ultimately be the bigger threat.

Henry Robinson, CLA President, said:

Having poor or non-existent broadband is a catastrophe for rural businesses. There are big frustrations and shortcomings in Openreach’s performance to date and we expect Government to be more demanding. However we want BT to be focused on delivering more connections at a faster pace, not distracted fighting legal battles over whether their company should or should not be legally broken up.

Rural businesses do not care how they get fast reliable broadband; they just need it as soon as possible. Every day that passes without broadband is another day of being held back from achieving their potential.”

So far most of the commentary that we’ve seen on this debate has been entirely predictable, with the bulk of BT’s arch rivals (e.g. Sky Broadband, Vodafone and TalkTalk) calling for a split because it would perhaps benefit them the most and then the Government suggesting that this might not be the best approach (here).

Meanwhile Ofcom must also consider what would be in the best interests of consumers, which is harder to judge given that BT’s rivals have yet to state precisely what plans and or investment they’d be willing to make into a newly separated Openreach.

So it’s good to see an opinion coming from what might be construed as the middle ground, although we’re not sure how much sway the CLA will actually have in this debate.

Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    In opposing this, the CLA is assuming that BT is likely to be providing the infrastructure to the final areas. That isn’t a given until we know BDUK’s position. That isn’t likely to be known until next year now according to this government release:

    http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CDP-2015-0069

    • Avatar MikeW

      Nice find, Patrick.

      But what makes you think that we now won’t know BDUK’s position until next year?

      The only thing I can see that would make you think that is that the Market Test Pilots will continue until March 2016 … but that has always been the intention. That date was certainly in the consultation documents a year ago.

      The debate pack does indicate that more evidence and findings are due to be published this year, as well as 2016.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      If they aren’t, then an OR/BT split is an irrelevance anyway. That briefing pack doesn’t tell us too much beyond the fact that the government has revised its targets a couple of times. What, maybe, it doesn’t address is the priorities the government set.

      It will be interesting to see how this pans out as I’m assuming that some MPs representing rural constituency will have been rudely awakened to the fact that they’d not really worked out the implications of what their government has set as priorities and targets. As is often the case, politicians aren’t great at dealing with the details.

    • Avatar gerarda

      In that briefing there was a reply by Ed Vaizey on the USO which said
      “Any broadband USO would have to comply with the European Universal Service Directive. The Directive does not specify a speed other than to indicate that it should be set at a level that is available to and used by the majority.”

      If that is the case with average speeds now 20+Mbps a 5-10 Mbps USO would seem to woefully inadequate.

  2. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    MikeW, I was assuming that BDUK’s position is dependent on being able to approve alternative approaches. The technology is already there, and communities with the demand, capacity and resources can already procure it or do it themselves, but that still leaves a great many without provision for no fault of their own. I am also assuming that inherently risk-averse local authorities that nevertheless want to finish the job properly won’t entertain other approaches without the BDUK stamp of approval.

  3. Avatar dragoneast

    When it’s said that the “technology is already there” perhaps someone could point us to a map and name the operators of the backhaul/masts (for I assume what is meant is fixed wireless and 4G rather than satellite) available to serve each locality within rural areas which BDUK has not helped. Then the people in those communities will know who they should approach and what is available from the altnets. “The technology is there”, don’t be coy then, just tell us where.

    • Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

      Dragoneast, I mean I’ve never quite understood why BDUK had to trial mixed fibre/wireless approaches other than to reassure local authorities that they are robust enough to suppory financially. I agree with you that Backhaul is a problem as BT makes access so restrictive. Maybe that’s something that OFCOM should address.

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