Robert McKechnie: Real network competition benefits all

Robert McKechnie
Robert McKechnie
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Around ten years ago BT established an autonomous division called Openreach in compliance with a regulatory framework agreed upon with communications watchdog Ofcom. The aim was to allow all operators fair and equal access to the BT network and its exchanges. This has never happened.

Today telecoms companies such as Sky and Vodafone as well as young independents like TenTel are calling for Ofcom to enforce a total and final split between BT and Openreach. Until that happens the playing field will never be level, and the service provided by Openreach unlikely to evolve or improve.

Undoubtedly Openreach has invested billions of pounds in the network infrastructure, at a time when the country was hit hard by recession. But while BT Retail is inextricably linked to Openreach, it is highly unlikely that BT would ever consider moving to another network. And as BT Retail is the largest possible customer in this industry, it does not make commercial sense for anyone to create an alternative network.

And here lies the nub of the problem. As there is no real competition, there is no driver for Openreach to provide a more attractive service. Companies such as TenTel must rely on Openreach to connect customers to the network, and provide necessary maintenance. With increasing delays to these services it becomes frustratingly difficult for us to provide the customer service we want to.

Our customers are further affected by the length of time it takes for an Openreach engineer to connect them to a new provider. The long wait discourages many from making the change to a new provider, despite them perhaps offering a service better suited to their needs, or being financially more attractive.

Should BT and Openreach separate, BT Retail would no longer be obliged to choose Openreach as an infrastructure partner. This would have a significant impact on the motivation for others to provide an alternative.

Consumers would reap the rewards, gaining a faster, more efficient service, and increasingly competitive rates. Broadband customers in rural areas would also benefit.

BT and Openreach have worked hard to lay the groundwork for a fantastic network in the UK. To make sure everyone, and not those just in the more profitable towns and cities, benefit by receiving good broadband at a reasonable price, the companies calling for change must put their money where their mouth is. Invest in the network, create real competition and get everyone connected.

Robert McKechnie is managing director of TenTel.