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The heads of Britain’s largest telecoms companies were summoned to a meeting with government ministers and their regulator to explain why they are not investing more n full-fibre broadband networks.
Clive Selley, chief executive of BT’s networking division Openreach; Howard Watson, head of BT’s technology arm; Tristia Harrison, chief executive of TalkTalk; and Tom Mockridge, chief executive of Virgin Media, attended the meeting with Karen Bradley, the Culture secretary and Sharon White, the head of Ofcom.
UK premises able to connect to a full fibre line
Stephen van Rooyen, chief executive of Sky’s UK and Irish divisions as well as executives from Vodafone and O2 and a number of smaller companies, including rural player B4rn and fibre specialists CityFibre and Hyperoptic, also attended.
Only 3 per cent of UK premises can connect to a full fibre line leaving the country well adrift of countries including Spain, Portugal and France in ultrafast broadband networks.
Three people with knowledge of the meeting said the tone was positive, and that fears that there would be heavy pressure on BT and Openreach to move faster on replacing its copper network went unrealised.
Ms White said this month that fibre was a “national priority” and that BT had held the country back by not investing. The government launched a review into future telecoms infrastructure investment two weeks ago.
Mr Selley plans to connect 10m homes by the middle of next decade dependent on a charge of up to £7 being passed on to its customers, including Vodafone, Sky and TalkTalk, which could then be passed on to consumers. That proposal has triggered a heated debate within the sector about the best way to fund full fibre networks.
Openreach is due to publish details of a plan to roll out more fibre by the end of the year. It is in talks with its largest customers, who are also BT’s biggest rivals in the broadband market, about supporting its push to lay more fibre by making commitments to upgrade customers. BT’s rivals have called on Openreach to provide more details on pricing before making any commitments.
Ultimately it is BT Group that will sign off on the huge investment needed for a network upgrade as the company balances its investment needs heading into 2018, which include an upcoming Premier League auction and an overhaul of its pension scheme to reduce the deficit.