The former digital economy minister, Ed Vaizey MP, has defended BT’s ownership of the Openreach infrastructure division. Speaking at a debate on the Digital Economy Bill 2016-2017, he said he was “utterly confused” by those calling for BT and Openreach to be split apart.
The new Digital Economy Bill promises that all homes in the UK will have internet access with download speeds of at least 10Mb. The bill was debated this week, and Ed Vaizey said that BT was in the best position to deliver on that universal service obligation (USO).
BT's ownership of Openreach has long been criticised, both by rivals like TalkTalk and Vodafone, and MPs, who have accused the provider of creating a monopoly that's restricted investment, development and better prices for consumers. BT has passionately denied the claims, and Ed Vaizey seems to agree.
He said: "I confess that I am utterly confused by those people who want to break up BT and Openreach. Why would one simply adopt the campaign of BT's competitors? Why would one wish to break up a highly successful British company, post-Brexit when we need all the champions we can get? Why would one break up a company that has delivered such a successful programme?
"In the words of the chief executive of Virgin Media, an able competitor to BT, 'If you want better broadband, pick up a spade.' That is my message to TalkTalk, Vodafone and Sky, who all seek for their own reasons to break up a great British company."
BT's competitors would, of course, refute Vaizey's claims greatly - investing in broadband infrastructure isn't just a case of getting on with it, when so much of it is already owned by BT. That's something telecoms regulator Ofcom recognises too - it's requested big changes to the way that Openreach operates in a bid to open the network up to other companies a bit more.
Even so, it's a debate that still rages and splitting BT and Openreach apart remains a possibilty. The government's newly appointed Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, said: "I have been clear that we will not stop or cease until we get the right result. If that means the structural separation of BT and Openreach, this Government are prepared to consider that.
"Ofcom has made some recommendations. We are looking carefully at them, and Ofcom are consulting on them. We need to make sure we get it right and that we get this delivered, but nothing is off the table.
The Bill will ensure that Ofcom is held to account, but not at the expense of delay and intransigence… The new electronic communications code recognises that digital connectivity is as important as a connection to water or electricity supplies. Providing new rights to install communications infrastructure will herald a revolution in rural connectivity, bringing the digital economy to all parts of our nation."