Internet Speed September 2016
Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the Fix Britain's Internet campaign, which is calling for Openreach to be separated from British Telecom (BT).
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. However, I know that 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. I also understand Openreach has 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 and I will follow developments closely.
As you may be aware, 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.
I believe it is important that Openreach implements more ambitious service standards and is much more responsive to consumers, as far too many customers have experienced a lack of access to broadband and poor quality service. I believe it is right that Ofcom should decide on the future of Openreach and should be supported to ensure the most competitive environment possible. I am concerned that 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.
More widely, I believe 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. It is therefore disappointing that 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 5 July, contains measures to create the right for every household to access high speed broadband. I can assure you my Shadow Frontbench colleagues and I will hold the Government to account on how it plans to improve communications infrastructure and connectivity as this Bill progresses through Parliament.
Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views. I can assure you I will continue to follow this important issue closely and hold the Government to account on the delivery of high speed broadband.