Stop me if you've heard this

Added by Chris Pateman | Tuesday 19th July 2016

As an industry, we get so used to living with work-arounds and banging our heads against the wall every time Openreach fall short of expectations, that we can wonder if anyone even bothers to listen.  Then let us take heart!

If not for the fact that it stops short of calling for the immediate structural separation of Openreach from BT, this morning’s long-awaited ‘World-class Connectivity’ report of the Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport almost reads like an FCS briefing paper.  

The committee of Parliamentarians spent six months investigating the state of Britain’s connectivity infrastructure.  It talked to BT, Ofcom, Virgin and Voda and received evidence from FCS, INCA and 100 other organisations and individuals.  It looked at mainstream provisioning, USO, passive infrastructure and the needs of the “last 5%”.  And what do you know..?

“There appears to be compelling evidence that BT Group is exploiting the position of vertical integration to make strategic decisions that favour the Group’s priorities and interests, at the expense of its access infrastructure business.

“BT does not lack access to capital. Its current structure allows it to use Openreach’s utility-type assets to cross-subsidise riskier activities elsewhere in the Group, while significantly under-investing in the access infrastructure and services on which a large part of the public rely.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  But, of course, we would say that, wouldn’t we?  What is vital here is precisely that it isn’t the industry saying it:  it’s Parliament.

Or how about this:  “The requirement of easy access to BT’s passive infrastructure on reasonable terms is vital, as it will allow network builders to come to better investment decisions. This issue should have been given a higher priority by Ofcom much earlier.  Key to its success will be Openreach providing online access infrastructure maps so that providers can plan their deployments.  Pricing will also need to be regulated in a way to encourage investment.  Openreach’s processes must be realistic and exible to meet alternative network builders’ needs and not just those of BT, and Openreach must demonstrate a willingness to deliver access arrangements that are flexible and encourage take up.”

FCS salutes this report from a committee which has demonstrated itself to be engaged with reality, aware of the taxpayer funding which has been passed to BT and concerned that Ofcom and Openreach have respectively fallen short on oversight and delivery.

The big danger, as always, is that this helpful spotlight on the needs, opportunities and frustrations of our industry will be overlooked among the latest headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s hair style or the mobile industry’s 5G manifesto.  Once again, it’s up to us – all of us – to make sure the policy-makers take it to heart.  Fortunately, we're not alone thgere, either:  FCS and several other customer organisations already have some robust arguments.  Let's make them!