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Local broadband access network could be separated from BT, say MPs

A broadband access scheme has failed to reach remote areas because of management failures by parent company BT, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee has said.

The committee argued that Ofcom should keep the option of separating the Openreach programme from BT “firmly on the table”.

The report said that although BT, Openreach and local authorities are on track to deliver 95% superfast broadband coverage by the end of 2017, the UK could lag behind in broadband provision by 2020 as technology evolves.

It said that part of the reason why the programme had been implemented so quickly was because it had tackled easy-to-reach premises instead of the whole area.

This has created a “patchwork” effect where residents are uncertain as to whether their premises will be connected or receive faster speeds.

A spokesperson for the County Councils Network (CCN) said: ““It is imperative that rural areas, which are home to a lot of businesses heavily dependent internet connection, are not left behind.

“Superfast broadband can spur on economic growth, and this is even more crucial for our rural areas in a post-Brexit world, with the county in economic uncertainty and full business rate retention set to be in place by 2020.”

The report also said that Openreach lacks transparency about its costs and planning, which has thwarted other networks’ provider planning, and provides a poor service that has failed to meet increased demand.

The committee recommended that Ofcom should “remain resolute” in insisting BT improves services, which is not a requirement it has placed much emphasis on so far, and uses full separation as a penalty if the company fails to make improvements.

It also said that Openreach should be required to publish a five-year strategic investment plan in order to improve its transparency.

A spokesperson for consumer group Which? said the organisation welcomed the report, adding: "Ofcom must move quickly to make sure Openreach genuinely improves service."

A BT spokesperson said: "Openreach investment is 30% higher than it was two years ago and it will grow again this year. Separating Openreach from BT would lead to less investment, not more."

(Image c. BDUK)

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