Ofcom’s Sharon White has called on BT to engage in ‘open and constructive’ conversation with the regulator, warning ‘we’re not easily intimidated’.
White’s comments follow remarks made by BT boss Gavin Patterson, who threatened to take legal action should Openreach be split from the telecoms giant. Ofcom recently announced its digital communications review, with White explaining that structural separation is not the only option.
Speaking today in Westminster to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, she said: ‘We’re looking at other options, not just structural separation. We’re not easily intimidated and we are driven to doing what’s best for the consumer. We don’t believe that Openreach is in a broken position but we would like to have an open and constructive evidence based conversation with BT about how Openreach has worked so far and whether there are reforms we can work on.
‘Functional separation has served the market very well, at the moment the issue is quality of service which is not a discrimination against their competition. Because BT’s business and consumers use different products from TalkTalk and Sky, is there scope for discrimination? We are keen to get more evidence on this. Would Openreach would invest more if it was a separate company? Structural separation is a non-trivial change and it is a seismic change and so when we come to a decision we will be looking at practical and legal issues.
With regards to BT’s market dominance, White expressed concern for SME’s, claiming that more competition is needed within business to prevent the smaller enterprises from being ‘squeezed’.
She commented: ‘The reason for the review is that the market feels very different than it did 10 years ago and that is particularly due to the liberation of the global environment. BT’s dominance varies by sector and support for SME’s shows they are dominant in that market.
‘In the residential market there is much more competition. The question of BT’s dominance varies by market, we have been keen to see if consumers have been best served throughout. We want to see more competition in the business side. SME’s are being squeezed by the residential market and the big companies.’