Times they are a-changing. Earlier this month we witnessed Openreach, the engineering arm of BT, officially and legally separate from its parent company BT Retail.
While Openreach Limited will still be fundamentally – and by that I mean 100% – owned by BT, it will now have its own board, strategy and manage its own employees. Namely the 31,000 which recently made the move from BT to Openreach. These engineers monitor and manage the tens of thousands of miles of copper and fibre lines that traverse the UK.
What will this mean for businesses, organisations and professionals across Northern Ireland? Not a huge amount, and particularly not in the short term. However, what we hope to see from this move, to independence, is greater transparency around their investments, strategy and plans.
A key focus for us and many of our clients is the development and improvement of broadband access and speeds in rural areas, particularly Fermanagh and Tyrone, as well as the centre of Belfast – areas that have suffered from poor investment in high speed broadband connections.
At Rainbow, we have been lobbying for the distinct separation of BT Retail, BT Business and Openreach in Northern Ireland for over 10 years in order to deliver a competitive and fair telecoms market throughout the Province. This separation will hopefully remove the misconception that if I stay with BT Business I will get a superior network service.
This announcement can only be a good thing for sectoral competition, and ultimately our customers, when it comes to getting the best access to the best speeds and value for money. With this separation it should be clearer that the Openreach network services both telecoms companies like ourselves, as well as BT Group businesses including BT Business and BT Retail in an open and equal access basis.
It was in Ofcom’s 2016 Strategic Review that determined Openreach was making decisions more attuned to the interests of its parent company than other network and telecoms providers. Of course, to an extent this is not unheard of but as the King Pin network operator for the UK and with a sizeable network of suppliers to please – or at least appease – it was deemed inappropriate at best.
The same paper noted the lack of consultation among Openreach and its competition with regards to their investment, or lack thereof, in the development of the network for the betterment of service delivery.
Though we have concerns surrounding Openreach continuing to sit within BT’s existing business structure, this joint proposal from BT and Ofcom of a separation gives us confidence and we expect positive changes within the wider industry which should ultimately benefit the consumer.
We want the benefits of this deal to be seen quickly and we’re ready to consult and engage to ensure that all customers can see real returns from this decision with the new organisation committing much-needed spend in Northern Ireland.