Chris Bryant: Split BT and OpenReach header image

Published: 24th Aug 2015

The shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant has called for OpenReach to be separated from BT to help the company effectively provide broadband to some of the country’s most isolated areas.

Mr Bryant said that the separation should take place unless Ofcom could provide convincing evidence as to why the two enterprises should be kept together. He added that the company should be held accountable for what he described as “poor service”.

Expressing his concerns that the government would not hit its 2017 target for 95 per cent superfast broadband availability, Mr Bryant said: “Broadband that is too slow, too late. This comes despite the fact that we all rely on the internet. In very short order broadband has become as much a public utility as electricity and water. We expect a reliable, high-speed service.”

He also claimed that Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) had been given an unfair advantage in the market by receiving almost all of the available funding, even though rival companies are able to access OpenReach on a wholesale basis.

However, there have been complaints that BT is slow to tackle technical problems and install new lines. Mr Bryant claimed that despite the government’s £150 million investment in providing broadband to 60,000 homes and businesses, only one per cent had actually been connected over the past two years.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Bryant said: “The government is considering a minimum requirement - or universal service obligation - but only of 5 megabits, not the 10 megabits that Ofcom says we need at the very least.”

He pointed out that the universal service obligation would not provide enough internet capacity to use video streaming services such as BBC iPlayer.

However, BT has suggested that any attempts to break up its main business and OpenReach would be met with years of litigation, further delaying the arrival of broadband in some rural areas.