What is the right number of Openreach engineers?
Openreach announced a recruitment programme back in May 2011 to expand the number of engineers that directly worked for it, and for some tasks like swap-outs of the VDSL modems they have sub-contracted this work to firms like Kelly Communications.
It seems that Lorne Mitchell an ex-BT executive has been urging parliament to start a national apprenticeship scheme to boost broadband roll-outs to ensure roll-out deadlines are met.
With some 4,000 engineers employed on the task, and the FTTC/P work going on progressively at some 1,450 exchanges (Openreach has a total of around 5,500 exchanges), employing more could be seen as a wise move if roll-out speed needed to be increased. Alas the annoying delays some people experience are not caused by a lack of engineers, but things like planning permission in conservation areas, blockages in ducting that require road works to clear them, delays due to weather causing engineers to be re-tasked. During these delays a team will go to work on a cabinet elsewhere. In theory if enough installation teams were created, with all the relevant skills then roll-out would be faster, but a result of this will be that once roll-out completes early, Openreach will be left with 1000's of engineers with very little to do, or most likely the new apprentices would simply be shown the door after just a year or two of training and work.
If the assumption is that Openreach is going to get almost all the BDUK projects, then ensuring it has the staff to complete those would be sensible, and with the commercial investment by Openreach due to end in 2014, this should free up engineering staff to work on BDUK/Local Authority part funded deployments. Certainly the slow progress of roll-out in the final third is nothing to do with numbers of staff employed by Openreach.
Ask yourself this, is faster broadband so important, that you are willing to pay more to allow a company to employ more staff, or are you happy to wait for the 12 to 18 months if you leave in the two-thirds of the UK likely to covered commercially, and for the next 25% waiting perhaps up to three years. The remaining 10% per cent or so of the population, as the Government ambitions stand currently are not going to see fibre unless it is a DIY solution.