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BT Openreach CEO: We're leading Europe on fibre broadband rollout

Monday, August 17th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The UK is in a “leading position” when it comes to its fibre broadband rollout, the head of BT Openreach has insisted.

Joe Garner, CEO of the company that looks after most of Britain’s broadband infrastructure, said he understood why people are impatient to get upgraded to superfast broadband.

But he insisted that Openreach is building a fibre network at the fastest rate “of any country on the planet” and is “leading Europe”.

Openreach is operated by BT Group on the basis of an agreement with Ofcom that it provides the same products, support, and levels of service to all internet service providers.

There have been repeated calls for it to be split from BT amid criticism that some areas are being left behind when it comes to broadband.

In a recent letter to digital minister Ed Vaizey, Bob Neill MP (Con – Bromley & Chislehurst) – who is co-chairing a new All-Party Parliamentary Group on London – said poor broadband means London is lagging behind European cities including Paris, Bucharest and Vilnius.

But in an interview on BBC Radio 4, Mr Garner defended BT Openreach, saying it is “pushing on at a tremendous rate” to get fibre coverage to 95% of the country.

Last week the government declared that its superfast broadband, much of which is being delivered by BT, has now reached more than 3m UK homes and businesses.

Asked about the frustrations of some people who cannot get access to superfast speeds Mr Garner told the BBC: “I can understand, but actually if you go back five years no-one had access to our fibre network and the rate that we’ve built is the fastest that we can find of any country on the planet so we are going at quite a rate.”

'Huge investments'

He said: “I can tell you categorically our top priority is rolling out fibre to more and more of the country.

“We’re working in partnerships with local and central government, we’re well on our way to 95%, we’re leading Europe in that position and frankly I don’t want anything to get in the way of that.

He said the £129m being reinvested by BT as part of a clause in the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) contract would allow it to push further in the rollout, but the final 1-2% would be “really difficult” and requires investment.

“We are making that investment, we’ve invested over £2.5bn already, we’re investing more every day and we’re continuing to reach out further and further, and we have built this country into a leading position.

“So yes there is still a lot more to do and we’re absolutely committed to that and we’re investing and we won’t rest until it’s done.”

Ofcom is currently consulting on whether Openreach should be separated from BT as part of the regulator's digital communications review – an overarching review of the UK’s fixed and wireless networks to make sure they work for consumers.

MPs have said that splitting the organisations would benefit consumers, but BT bosses have argued that the current set-up encourages investment.

Asked about the issue, Mr Garner said: "If we look backwards I very much doubt that we would have been able to make the investment that BT made in the fibre network in the depths of recession five years ago that’s led to our Europe-leading position today.

"And looking forward, we’re about to go into trials with new ultrafast technology and we’re able to do that because we can access the full research and development capability of the BT group.

"If we look at the facts of what’s actually happened, the BT Group has made huge investments in fibre, £2.5bn-plus, and it’s done that at a time when not many companies were investing."

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