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Entanet to Ofcom: Make Openreach focus more on quality of service

26 July 2016

Entanet, the leading wholesale communications provider, has welcomed planned moves announced by Ofcom to make Openreach a legally separate company within BT Group, with its own board and its own brand.

On the plans for Openreach to be run separately within BT as a separate entity, Entanet said that it remains to be seen what really happens over the coming months. Neil Watson, Entanet’s Head of Service, says: “Ofcom’s chief executive, Sharon White, said that splitting Openreach off from BT completely – as we and many others in the industry have called for because we believe it’s the only way to ensure free and fair competition – would take too long. This sounds like a bit of a cop-out. It remains to be seen just how ‘independent’ Openreach becomes while it is still a division within the BT Group.

White stated: “This could bring about significant change. It will mean you have faster, more reliable broadband. It will mean engineers turning up on time and getting the job done first time. And crucially for the UK it will mean more investment in fast fibre to the doorstep.”

Entanet however, is sceptical about the chances of such improvements being achieved and says the structural change does not go far enough. It wants Openreach to be completely independent.

Watson comments: “If there are improvements to responsiveness and service levels, it will be most welcome. But that’s a big ‘if’ in our view. For years, ISPs, CPs and customers have had to endure poor service levels from Openreach. But we don’t see how this organisational change will make Openreach perform better. It will still be part of BT, within the walls of the larger organisation. Until it is completely outside and independent of BT, we don’t believe it can ever deliver truly fair and balanced service levels to the industry and to the UK’s businesses and consumers.”

There is also still too much emphasis on building out the network infrastructure, says Watson. As White pointed out, it is scandalous that only 2% can as yet receive fibre-based ultrafast broadband, compared with 70% in Japan and 60% in South Korea, and more investment in the network is urgently needed. But this is a symptom rather than the cause of the problem, says Watson.

“The attention always seems to be focused on the roll-out of infrastructure. But in our view, that’s also happening because Openreach is part of BT and the organisation as a whole has wider investment priorities. It is not focused on what the UK and the industry needs, it’s focused on what BT needs. We need to see wholesale cultural change at Openreach with the organisation putting the customer first, instead of always hiding behind the need to extend availability and improve speeds. We don’t see that happening until the company is truly and wholly independent of BT.”

Watson dismissed the claim that it would take too long and be too complicated to divest Openreach from BT due to land and pension arrangements as little more than excuses. “Ofcom is effectively saying that BT and Openreach can never be separated. We don’t accept that. The commercial world faces challenges like this all the time. Of course it could be made to work. Where there is a will, there is a way.”

He was also dismissive of the regulator’s message that Openreach will be obliged to consult formally with customers such as Sky and TalkTalk on large-scale investments. “That’s all every well but will Openreach, when it is still part of BT, actually do what BT’s competitors want? Also, and very importantly, what about the views of the hundreds of smaller service providers. Their views should matter as well.”

Watson is now concerned that the problems Entanet, other services providers and customers experience, will continue. He says that the main challenge communications providers, ISPs and resellers face is meeting the needs and expectations of customers, whilst always being dependent on Openreach delivering services on time and in accordance with its responsibilities.

“Openreach has earned itself a strong reputation for abysmal service”, says Watson. “It isn’t right that a customer can experience multiple missed engineering appointments or engineers that fail to complete tasks, leaving customers without a working service.

“Communications providers constantly experience problems with the delivery of broadband and dedicated Ethernet connectivity, for which business customers are asked to pay a significant premium and for which they should, in our view, expect a service that is much more responsive and of a much higher quality. Despite recent claims, in our experience service has not improved since Ofcom published its initial Strategic Review conclusions in March. We believe this will remain the case until there is either a true level of competition or fundamental improvement in service levels at Openreach.”