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Beyond Reach (for now)

I watched Sharon White, communications watchdog Ofcom’s chief executive, on yesterday’s news which reported that, despite alleged underinvestment and poor access for rivals, Ofcom has stopped short of requiring the complete splitting off of Openreach from BT. Instead Openreach is to provide improved access to its infrastructure for rivals to lay their own fibre cables with the threat of a possible future break up if matters do not improve.

Despite her reasonable explanations the part of her review of the telecoms industry that allows Openreach to remain with BT just sounds conceptually wrong to me. The replacement of the existing network of copper wires with ultrafast fibre optics is too important to be left in the hands of a single monopoly supplier however opened – up, regulated and reported upon it may be. This technology is key to the economic future of the country, it is needed urgently and we are falling behind. As much innovation and, crucially, investment as can be found is needed and the idea that it is to be funnelled through Openreach is not brave enough. Ultrafast fibre optics will affect how we live, work, shop, travel around, form ourselves into communities etc. We need to get on with it and open it up within a regulatory framework – not use such a framework to limit competition.

Iain Miller