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BT said to plan copper broadband network switch off by 2027

A new report claims UK operator group BT is planning to complete the full conversion of its fixed line network from copper to fibre within eight years.

The gossip comes courtesy of Sky News, which reckons BT CEO Philip Jansen is in ‘secret talks’ with the government regarding the timetable for switching off the copper broadband network. What makes these talks more secret than any others between CEOs and politicians isn’t stated. And, of course, the very act of publishing the story also means they are definitely not secret now anyway.

Apparently Jansen is at the head of an entire covert cabal, including regulators and other industry stakeholders, intent on dictating the UKs broadband agenda for years to come. A kind of telecoms Illuminati, the report would have us believe. The initiative seems to have been catalysed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s stated aim of achieving full UK fibre coverage by 2025.

We asked BT for a comment on the report and got the following: “As we made clear at the time of our last financial results there needs to be a determined acceleration towards a pro-investment policy and regulatory regime, so BT is keen to see the industry work together with government on the big challenges – such as digital switchover and rural coverage – that we all want to see addressed.”

That seems to be a circuitous way of saying “we don’t comment on rumour and speculation,” but fair enough. Speaking to other industry figures we get the impression that Sky’s source (assuming they didn’t just make it up) probably leaked in order to put pressure on the government and regulators to create the environment to make this broadband utopia possible.

Meanwhile Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, opined the following: “In light of our funded and mobilised Gigabit City programme to deploy wholesale full fibre infrastructure to at least five million homes, Ofcom’s exclusive focus on BT Openreach as the vehicle for migration from copper to fibre is wrong. Retiring the copper network needs to be managed in a way that promotes competition, benefiting every builder of fibre networks, rather than simply reinforcing BT Openreach’s existing market dominance. Consumers should have the power to switch to any full fibre network. CityFibre stands ready to play its part in transferring the nation’s homes and businesses onto a new generation of fibre networks.”

BT has consistently stated that it will only hit these kinds of targets if the right regulatory, public investment and industry cooperation environment is created. By contributing to a public expectation of full fibre by 2027, maybe BT hopes to put the ball in the government and Ofcom’s court. BT can then say it’s doing everything it can to make this happen, but is hamstrung by an unhelpful public sector.


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