BT rivals throw down gauntlet in Openreach challenge

BT rivals throw down gauntlet in Openreach challenge

Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and the Federation of Communications Services (FCS) have joined forces to directly challenge Ofcom’s BT Openreach reforms.

The BT rivals banded together to form what FCS CEO Chris Patemen described as an ‘all-industry coalition’ to make sure Ofcom delivers on its promise to bring major changes to BT Openreach.

The regulator has previously demanded that Openreach open its broadband network to rivals, instead of a full structural separation.

Keeping promises

In an open letter to Ofcom CEO Sharon White, senior industry figures delivered a ‘10-point plan for a better Openreach’. The documents set forth a number of ways in which the Openreach can be reformed, including making the business completely separate from BT, both legally and financially. 

They have called for an independent body to oversee the transition, also stating that Openreach needs to be rebranded to ensure there is no association with BT.

The ‘coalition’ have also called for the broadband subsidiary to no longer be the only provider that BT can use, claiming this will open up more competition in the market.

Challenging the status quo

FCS CEO Chris Pateman described the proposals as a direct challenge to the industry. He echoed comments previously made by Ofcom that a change in the status quo is needed, claiming that if the 10-point plan is a way for the regulator to accomplish this.

‘We believe it’s vital the people who decide what ‘good’ looks like should be Openreach’s customers’, he said. ‘Frankly, FCS was disappointed Ofcom’s review of digital communications stopped short of recommending the complete structural separation of Openreach from the BT Group.  Ofcom believe improvements can be delivered without the hassle and delays of a full separation:  our 10-point plan represents the industry’s proposals on how this can be accomplished.

‘We are throwing down a challenge, underpinned by sound research and experience.  A challenge to Ofcom, Openreach and the industry to work together to shape the future for the good of all market players and all customers.’

BT responds

BT has responded to the 10-point proposals by stating it is currently in talks with Ofcom over 'constructive' ways to make Openreach more independent. A spokesperson commented: We are in talks with Ofcom, discussing constructive ideas to further enhance the independence of Openreach from the rest of BT Group.

'Key suggestions made by other companies today seem incompatible with the legal responsibility that the Board of any listed company has when it comes to stewarding shareholders' money responsibly.'

Tensions heighten

The BT broadband subsidiary has been the focus of a number of industry debates over the last year as Ofcom carried out its once-a-decade Digital Communications Review. This sparked a number of public disagreements as rival networks called for full structural separation, claiming that Openreach had the incentive to give BT an advantage.

This was met with strong opposition from BT boss Gavin Patterson, who has previously threatened to take legal action if Openreach was split.




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