Minister suggests broadband split unlikely header image

Published: 22nd Jun 2016

Digital economy minister Ed Vaizey has declared himself “a sceptic” when it came to the benefits of separating Openreach from the rest of BT’s business, despite the fact that Ofcom has indicated it will consider the option in its major review of UK broadband provision.

Mr Vaizey told the Financial Times: “I think full separation would be an enormous undertaking, incredibly time consuming [and have] lots of potential to backfire.”

However, he said he was still prepared to listen to the outcome of the Ofcom review, and emphasised that BT was on track to meet its targets for providing broadband to 95 per cent of the UK’s home and businesses by 2017.

He made the comments despite growing criticism from BT’s rivals about the way it has handled the rollout of broadband services across the UK, which it is carrying out with government funding as part of Broadband UK.

A number of industry figures have criticised Mr Vaizey for making the comments while the enquiry was still ongoing, potentially affecting the outcome.

Some have accused BT of empire-building after it made a decisive return to the mobile market with the purchase of EE. It has also been challenging the dominance of Sky TV by acquiring the rights to broadcast Premier League and Championship football matches.

However, experts suggested that Ofcom was more likely to be concerned about the high levels of dissatisfaction amongst BT customers, even though more people than ever are able to access broadband.

Mr Vaizey also challenged this idea, saying: “If broadband is so terrible, why are we the leading ecommerce nation in the world?”

He also took the opportunity to play down the potential benefits of fibre-to-premises connections, which are currently being trialled by Sky and Virgin Media.

The development comes after a number of media and internet companies wrote to the Financial Times to express their concerns about the way BT was managing the national telecoms network.