BT sorry for faults as analysts hail growth

BT has steered away from the question of whether the company has bid for Champions League rights. Picture: Getty
BT has steered away from the question of whether the company has bid for Champions League rights. Picture: Getty
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Telecoms giant BT today apologised for taking “far too long” to solve problems with customers’ phone and internet lines as it reported a dip in second-quarter profits.

The group said the average time to fix faults was “just over” three days, but a report by the BBC’s Watchdog programme found some customers had been without a reliable connection for several months.

A spokesman for BT’s Openreach business, which maintains the networks used by many telecoms service providers, said: “We recognise that it took far too long to resolve these faults and we appreciate that losing telephone and internet services is a considerable inconvenience.”

Openreach engineers carry out more than 160,000 jobs each week with “very few issues”, the spokesman said, but some faults mean the firm has to gain approval from local authorities to dig up roads, “so these cases can take a lot longer to resolve”.

The apology came as BT reported an underlying pre-tax profit of £1.4 billion for the three months to the end of September, down 4 per cent from the same period last year, on flat revenues of £4.5bn. The interim dividend was raised by 13 per cent to 3.4p.

Analysts at Espirito Santo said the results – the first since new chief executive Gavin Patterson took the helm – were better than expected and the only “fly in the ointment” was an increase in the group’s pre-tax pension deficit to £6.7bn. That was up from £5.2bn in June and deeper than the broker’s forecast of £4.4bn.

BT also revealed that it has signed up more than two million customers to its new sports channels as it seeks to lure armchair football fans away from rival BSkyB.

The group, which paid £738 million for the rights to show 38 top-flight games a season for three years, said a wholesale deal with cable operator Virgin Media means its BT Sport package is now available to about four million households in total.

Patterson, who took over from Scots-born former boss Ian Livingston in September, said: “BT Sport has made a confident start and is already delivering.”

However, Patterson was non-committal over speculation that the group is preparing to bid for the rights to Champions League football. He said: “We don’t feel as though we need to have any more live rights. We’ll evaluate them and if they are going to create value for the group, we are going to be interested in them.”

BSkyB has so far shrugged off the competition and recently said that record numbers tuned in to the start of the football season, with an average audience of 1.55 million, up from 1.29 million last year.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The take-up of BT Sport from existing customers, as well as its contract with Virgin Media, puts the company in front of a whole raft of consumers.

“This has, of course, come at a cost, and investment in the new foray into sport has provided a drag on overall earnings.”

Shares in BT, which have risen 71 per cent over the past year, closed up 7.5p, or 2 per cent, at 377p.