BT’s Openreach deal ‘must address rural broadband woes’

The legal separation of BT from its Openreach division must not shift the focus on the pressing need to roll out superfast broadband to all rural communities, say farm leaders.

Ofcom announced on Friday (10 March) BT had agreed to separate its broadband division, Openreach, from the rest of the company in a bid to address competition concerns.

Under the agreement, BT will still own Openreach, the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

However, Openreach will become a “distinct” company with its own management, board and strategy within the BT group.

See also: Ofcom broadband decision offers hope for farmers

Openreach delivers the superfast broadband technology to the tens of millions of fibre and existing copper lines across the UK.

Legal obligation

The decision means Openreach will have a legal obligation to serve all of its customers, including BT’s rivals, Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, equally.

Farm leaders have cautiously welcomed the decision, but insisted more must be done to ensure farmers and landowners are given access to fast broadband.

About 1.4 million premises remain unable to access broadband speeds of more than 10Mbps, which is required to meet a typical household’s needs.

This is also the proposed speed of the government’s universal service obligation (USO) on broadband.

According to the Countryside Alliance, superfast broadband measured at 30Mbps is available in 89% of UK homes, but only 59% of homes in rural areas are able to access superfast speeds.

Good news’

Suzanne Clear, the NFU’s senior adviser for planning and rural affairs, said: “For farmers this should be good news in terms of getting connected faster when they find another company to provide them with a service and for quicker repairs.”

The Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) said Openreach must now focus 100% on delivering the investment needed to connect rural communities.

CLA senior economics adviser Charles Trotman said: “The CLA will continue to work with all parties to find new ways to get the best possible connections into rural areas and end once and for all the rural-urban digital divide.”

‘Distraction’

But the Countryside Alliance labelled the BT Openreach separation “a distraction” and said Ofcom must ensure the separation is swift “to ensure Openreach can focus on broadband delivery in the countryside”.

The group’s head of policy Sarah Lee said the separation “must address the frustrations of rural communities without adequate broadband provision”.

Meanwhile, in his Spring Budget this week, chancellor Phil Hammond pledged £16m towards a 5G hub alongside a 5G strategy to improve superfast mobile phone coverage across the UK.

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