Concerns have been raised that BT has underinvested in Openreach, leading to poor service which has resulted in customers experiencing service interruptions and slow speeds. Openreach was established in 2006 as part of an agreement between BT and Ofcom – the UK’s communications regulator – to ensure rival firms had fair access to the broadband network. Openreach has also faced criticism for delaying the installation of ultra-fast broadband, particularly as it is the largest beneficiary of around £1 billion in government funding through the Broadband Delivery UK programme.
Earlier this year, Ofcom announced the initial conclusions of its Strategic Review of Digital Communications, including plans for a more independent Openreach, and in July launched a consultation on its proposals for Openreach to become a legally separate company within the BT Group. This consultation closes in October.
In July, I obtained government figures showing that more than 20,000 homes and businesses across the Liverpool City Region are unable to access superfast broadband.
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee recently published a report in which it calls on BT to invest significantly more in Openreach. The Committee also supports Ofcom’s plans for establishing greater separation between Openreach and the BT Group, but argues that if BT fails to offer necessary reforms and investment assurances, then Ofcom should move to enforce full separation of Openreach.
Openreach must implement more ambitious service standards and become more responsive to consumers. At the moment, far too many customers have experienced a lack of access to broadband and poor quality service. It is right that Ofcom should decide on the future of Openreach and should be supported to ensure the most competitive environment possible. So far the government has failed to foster a competitive communications market, both in in mobile and fixed, and believe that more competition means better service, more investment and lower prices for businesses and consumers and that Ofcom should be supported to make sure that happens.
We need a digital industrial strategy to ensure everyone benefits from the digital revolution, particularly as research has shown that faster broadband speeds would add up to £17 billion to the UK economy by 2024. Yet the government has abandoned the previous Labour government’s commitment to fully funded universal broadband. I am concerned the government lacks a coherent strategy and has repeatedly failed to hit its targets on broadband rollout, costing the economy billions in lost productivity gains and new jobs; and denying millions of people the economic and social benefits provided by the Internet.
The government’s Digital Economy Bill, which was introduced in the House of Commons on July 5, contains measures to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband. I will do everything possible to hold the government to account for how it plans to improve communications infrastructure and connectivity as this Bill progresses through Parliament.