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BT: Not getting broadband is like deprivation

Steve Robertson

By Barry Collins

Posted on 5 Mar 2010 at 07:27

Q. But the Government’s only pledged £200m. That’s a drop in the ocean to the £1.5bn you’re spending on a fibre rollout. Why didn’t you sort that out first, before embarking on a much bigger investment in fibre?

A. Because it comes down to the basic economics. At the end of the day, every pound I spend – or Openreach spends – is money which an investor has made available to us and they need to get a return on their investment.

At the end of the day, every pound I spend – or Openreach spends – is money which an investor has made available to us and they need to get a return on their investment

You could say, actually, that the days of having a nationalised telecoms infrastructure are way, way, way behind us. And what we need to do is make sure we build the commercial models that allow us to get the best technology possible, to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

In the places where it doesn’t make commercial sense for us to do it as a business, we need to work with public authorities, as hard as we can, to bring broadband, and hopefully super-fast broadband, to those places.

Historically, we’ve actually been pretty good at doing that. There are many, many places in the UK where local authorities and BT have successfully worked together to bring broadband in those places.

In the few places where it isn’t there – and there are quite a few that get less than 2Mbits/sec... And, to be honest, for me personally today, if it’s less than 2Mbits/sec – and I’m just talking about me as a consumer – I don’t feel I’m getting proper broadband.

If we’re talking about the 13% of people who get less than 2Mbits/sec, we need to work together with local authorities and Government to help those folks get decent broadband coverage.

But you can’t have all the benefits of a market-based approach and all the benefits of having a nationalised industry at the same time. I’ve got huge sympathy, but I’m running a business and if I don’t get return on investment to investors, I won’t get the money to invest and I won’t get new technology anywhere.

Q. The biggest complaint we hear from broadband customers is that BT and their ISP blame one another when there’s a problem with their connection. What are you doing to address that issue?

A. Looking at the reliability of broadband networks in general, which is very important from our point of view, it has got a lot better. The underlying reliability of the Openreach infrastructure is about 40% more reliable than it was four years ago. And I think that’s been driven by the fact that people are really intolerant if it breaks. The impact of a breakage on people’s lives and businesses now is really horrendous. So we have to make it more reliable.

The vast majority of people get handled well. The problem is if there is breakage in the process. So for instance, if you’ve got an intermittent fault. You can get faults caused by all sorts of things. My favourite is there’s a street where people’s broadband went when someone switched their Jacuzzi on.

There’s a lot of learning for Openreach and its customers [ISPs] still to do about how to give a really good service in these hard-to-solve situations. If you fall between the cracks you can bounce between different parts of the supply chain and we’ve got a lot to do, still, to make that better.

It’s a problem we’re all very aware of. It’s a problem we’re all working very hard to solve. However, there isn’t an easy answer. It’s partly due to the immaturity of the technology. But I do believe over time it’s going to get better.

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User comments

Bad reporting?

Just where, exactly, does he say in that interview that "Broadband slower than 2Mbits/sec is deprivation"?

By jmiii on 5 Mar 2010

Headline corrected

Apologies. The initial headline was an error on my part. Now corrected.

Barry Collins
Online Editor

By Barry_Collins on 5 Mar 2010

"Not getting broadband is like deprivation"

Yes, deprivation of profits for ISPs like BT.

Not to worry, the government, with its magical bottomless money chest will soon have every hardly working family in Britain equipped with both a Bribo laptop and broadband.

By Lacrobat on 5 Mar 2010

Deprivation Measurement

I think the interesting point raised here is whether internet/broadband access should be added to the Index of Multiple Deprivation.

I don't think it would be inaccurate to suggest that classical measures of poor housing (e.g. lack of central heating) may now be less important influences of social health and access to education (and possibly even to physical health) than lack of internet/broadband access.

By Peter_Tennant on 5 Mar 2010

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