The CEO at Ofcom Sharon White has firmly come out on the side of the consumer and is apparently refusing to bow to the tactics of the BT Group now that the consultation is underway on what should have in the communications market.
When it was clear the review was going to happen in 2015 we ran a poll in March 2015 asking visitors whether they believed Ofcom should split Openreach away from the BT Group. The poll was run then as this was before all the commercial entities involved had really got onto the bandwagon of ensuring their viewpoints featured prominently, so hopefully the responses reflect a little more what the public feeling is, rather than the latest headline they have read.
6 out of 10 from the over 1,600 who took part in the poll seem to support the option that Ofcom has to split Openreach away from the BT Group, which supports the view of some communication providers. What is more interesting is when asked whether this would be a good deal for rural broadband those saying this would be a good dropped to just under 4 out of 10.
The difference between the two questions represent the difficult decisions faced by Ofcom, and the response to the second question is even more relevant when you consider that once Virgin Media completes it Lightning roll-out we should have ultrafast broadband available to 70% of the UK compared to the current 48.5% (slightly higher than existing Ofcom figures as we have started to see extra coverage), and while the BDUK projects are delivering ultrafast FTTP and some phase 2 projects have FTTP from Gigaclear on the way the vast majority of that final 30% will be rural areas.
Irrespective of what the BT CEO says when warning about a legal quagmire, if the decision from Ofcom stretches on into late 2016 and beyond this period of uncertainty carries a real risk of stalling any new investment in the UK broadband future, as players may not be able to factor in the effect of an unleashed Openreach versus the relative tame beast it is now (tame as in measured stepped roll-out, i.e. fibre to cabinets, now starting pushing fibre deeper and maybe the final leap to widespread FTTP from 2022 onwards).
What we do know is that complaints about long lead times for installs and repair visits continue to happen, perhaps not at the volume of the 2012 period, but as broadband becomes more important to home and the SME world the voraciousness appears higher. How much the performance levels are influencing people to call for the full split is unknown. The data we have seen shows lead times for installs show a 7 day average in Q2/2015 compared to 11 days in Q1/2014 and Ethernet lead times have dropped by 13 days to the current 27 days for locations needing no new network, for those needing new network work it is longer at 65 days (a four day improvement). The timeframes are working days, which means Monday to Friday.