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Sky telegraphs its Openreach agenda

New design on openreach vans

As BT’s negotiations with Ofcom falter, embittered Openreach customer Sky recruited the Telegraph newspaper for propaganda help.

The UK newspaper has taken time away from entrapping football managers to accommodate an article entitled ‘Openreach must be separated from BT to fix Britain’s lagging internet’ that is bylined by Andrew Griffith, the COO and CFO of Sky.

In it Griffith revisits the well-trodden path of moaning about Openreach – the wholesale division of BT – that it doesn’t invest enough in infrastructure, drags its feet over service and is generally the worst kind of bounder and cad.

It starts with a clever piece of deliberate ambiguity about the great broadband enjoyed by the residents of Hastings, but twist being this is the New Zealand rather than UK version. New Zealand, you see, is unburdened by the blight that is Openreach and thus lives in a connectivity utopia where fibre litters the streets and even the sheep can access Netflix in HD.

The UK, however, apparently lags most of Eastern Europe when it comes to average broadband speeds. Griffith blames this on BT’s claimed reluctance to invest in fibre, preferring instead to “sweat its existing copper network.”

“Far from investing in the network, BT is actually a net recipient of cash from Openreach,” wrote Griffith. “It therefore has no incentive to invest more. Customers suffer and there is no motivation to improve its notoriously poor service. This is simply not good enough. But there is a clear and simple answer to resolve what has become a long-standing regulatory deadlock.”

That answer is, of course, to fully separate Openreach from BT and Griffith reels off the usual arguments in favour of such a move, while having the nerve to say “We need to see BT’s tired arguments for the stalling tactics that they are, and call time on this debate.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Coincidentally the FT published a piece on the same day entitled ‘BT and Ofcom reach impasse over independent Openreach’ in which the paper had got hold of a handy cache of inside info on the negotiations going on between BT and Ofcom regarding the partial separation of Openreach decreed by Ofcom earlier this year.

Apparently there has been little progress, with BT pushing back on matters of corporate governance, the cost of the move and concern about pension risks. There will be further talks but BT seems to be playing a dangerous game of chicken with Ofcom, which has the option of handing the whole issue over to European regulators if it tires of the hassle.

Sky’s Griffith apparently decided this would be a good time to increase the public pressure on Ofcom over Openreach via the obliging Telegraph. He didn’t really say anything new other than to pour scorn on the BT objections detailed in the FT piece, but with Ofcom set to finalise its Digital Communications Review recommendations soon he may have struck a blow regardless.


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