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Splitting BT and Openreach is 'not off the table', government admits

Wednesday, September 14th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The full separation of BT and Openreach is still a possibility, the culture secretary has admitted.

Karen Bradley said “nothing is off the table” as the government looks to improve both the UK’s broadband infrastructure and consumer confidence in the industry.

Ofcom announced plans to make Openreach a “legally separate company” earlier this year but stopped short of recommending a full split from BT.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday as the Digital Economy Bill was presented for its second reading, Ms Bradley said Ofcom’s recommendations were being looked at.

Responding to a question about the “monopoly BT has with Openreach”, she said: “We will not cease to get the right result and if that means structural separation of BT and Openreach then this government is prepared to look at that.

“Ofcom has made some recommendations, we are looking carefully at those recommendations, Ofcom are consulting on those but we want to get this right and we want to deliver. Nothing is off the table.”

The Bill was criticised by shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah, who claimed it had “nothing to say on cyber security”.

She also described the new Universal Service Obligation, which will give all UK citizens the legal right to fast broadband, as “a much overdue half-step in the right direction”.

Former culture secretary John Whittingdale said the USO is a “major step forward”, adding: “BT is already saying it can deliver it without legal requirement but this should spur them on.”

As well as guaranteeing UK households a minimum broadband speed, the Bill will give Ofcom the power to collect postcode-level speed data from providers – a move that has been welcomed by the Local Government Association.

It will also ensure that broadband customers get automatic compensation when things go wrong and will reform the Electronic Communications Code, which should make it easier and cheaper for providers to build new broadband infrastructure.

Planning laws will also be simplified, allowing providers to install equipment more efficiently and with “fewer regulatory hurdles”.

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