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BT vows to support government push for 5Mbps broadband for all

Tuesday, September 22nd 2015 by Ellen Branagh

BT has pledged to support the government in providing universal broadband speeds of 5-10Mbps.

The company's CEO Gavin Patterson said it wants to "forge an ultrafast future for Britain" but said it would require a "collaborative effort across industry and government".

Mr Patterson unveiled the company's ambitions at BT's Delivering Britain's Digital Future conference in London this morning.

It comes as the company's rivals launched their latest attack on the telecoms giant, writing in an open letter yesterday that the UK broadband market is letting down millions of customers and citing a 'conflict of interest' in BT's role as part of the reason.

Ofcom's overarching Strategic Review of Digital Communications is looking at splitting Openreach from BT as one possible future step for the telecoms industry.

At today's conference, Mr Patterson outlined four pledges – to be ready to deliver minimums speeds of 5-10mbps to everyone in the UK; to be ready to expand the reach of fibre broadband beyond 95%; ready to take the UK from a superfast nation to an ultrafast one; and to raise the bar on service.

But he warned: "All these pledges do have dependence on the government and Ofcom."

He said to tackle slow speeds in hard-to-reach parts of the country, the company would introduce a satellite broadband service for some of the UK’s more remote premises by the end of the year.

The majority of people will be able to get far more than minimum speeds, Mr Patterson said, adding that BT wants to go “further and faster” on fibre broadband.

He announced plans to supply fibre broadband to all new housing developments, either through BT’s own efforts or in co-operation with developers.

The UK will exceed the government's 95% target for fibre availability, Mr Patterson said, thanks in part to cash that is being reinvested where take-up has been higher than originally projected.

Earlier this year, nearly £130m was announced as being released and could potentially push the UK towards giving access to fibre to 96% of premises, he said.

'Never say no'

He told the conference that 7% of the UK do not have access to mains gas, adding: "By the end of 2017 there will be more houses in the UK with fibre broadband than with mains gas supply. That is a huge achievement."

Mr Patterson vowed that BT will "never say no" to communities wanting faster broadband and said 90 communities are already benefiting from the company's exploration of innovative funding and technical solutions.

“For the past five years, the UK has been the largest digital economy in the G20, by percentage of GDP. We think the UK has an even brighter future ahead if we make the right decisions today," he said.

"We want to forge an ultrafast future for Britain and stand ready to help government deliver the broadband speeds necessary for every property to enjoy modern day internet services, such as High Definition TV streaming and cloud computing.

"To achieve this, we need a collaborative effort across industry and government.”

Mr Patterson said new technologies being tested at BT's research laboratories could help boost slow speeds for hard-to-reach premises.

Mr Patterson championed ultrafast broadband and said BT’s new services of 300-500Mbps would reach 10m homes and smaller businesses by the end of 2020, and the majority of premises within a decade.

The connections on offer would be a combination of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology, as well as new G.fast technology, which uses existing fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology.

"Every part of BT is ready to play a part to give consumers, businesses, communication providers, the service they need and expect," he added.

At today's conference, BT Openreach CEO Joe Garner also announced a number of commitments to improve customer service, saying while the company had made progress, there was more to do.

Mr Garner said the company plans to exceed Ofcom’s 2017 minimum standards for delivering new connections on-time by 6%.

The firm is introducing a 'View My Engineer' service, which gives customers text progress updates along with their engineer’s name and mobile number.

Currently, Openreach does not deal directly with the consumer, who has to take any issues to their broadband provider, but Mr Garner today said he is open to the company dealing directly with end-customers, subject to consulting Ofcom and telecom providers.

The focus on customer service is the latest move by the company to improve the way it handles customer services.

Last week, BT announced it is investing in its UK call centre operations, creating more than a thousand jobs, and promised to answer more than 80% of its calls in the UK by the end of 2016.

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