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CLA: Splitting Openreach and BT would distract from rural broadband rollout

Thursday, October 8th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

The organisation that represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses has urged Ofcom not to split Openreach from BT.

The CLA, which has 33,000 members, said separating the organisations at this stage of the UK’s broadband rollout would distract from efforts to get decent connectivity to rural areas as quickly as possible.

President Henry Robinson said: “Having poor or nonexistent 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.”

Ofcom is currently investigating whether Openreach, which owns and maintains the UK’s largest broadband network, should be separated from BT.

The consultation forms part of its digital communications review, an overarching review of the UK’s fixed and wireless networks.

The topic has been the subject of fierce debate, with BT’s rivals arguing that a split would create a more competitive broadband market.

'Postcode lottery'

But the telecoms giant has called for a “collaborative effort across industry and government”, promising to support the government in providing universal broadband speeds of 5-10Mbps.

And last week, digital minister Ed Vaizey said he was sceptical of the full separation of the companies, saying it has “lots of potential to backfire”.

The CLA recently warned that getting the broadband and mobile coverage that rural businesses need is still a “postcode lottery”.

The comments came as the CLA published its Rural Business County League Table, which scored each county on criteria which can support or challenge rural businesses.

Those criteria include digital connectivity, broken down into scores for superfast broadband coverage and 3G coverage.

When the results were published, Mr Robinson said good broadband and mobile coverage were “top of the list” when it comes to helping rural businesses succeed.

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