Openreach: Connecting Last 1-2 Percent Of UK To Fibre Is ‘Really Difficult’

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Openreach CEO Joe Garner denies it is unwilling to invest and maintains his unit is better off as part of BT

Openreach CEO Joe Garner has denied accusations that the continued existence of broadband notspots in urban and rural areas is because of a lack of investment and says the UK’s fibre rollout has been “Europe-leading.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Garner said the challenge was finding technical solutions to connect the ‘final five percent’ not covered by existing government broadband projects like Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), but that it was firmly committed to achieving total coverage.

“We can see ways of reaching the government target of 95 percent by the end of 2017,” Garner said. “The reality is the last one or two percent is really difficult. The last one percent doesn’t have access to electricity, running water and gas.”

Read More: The Battle for the future of UK communications

Europe-leading coverage

Joe Garner, CEO, OpenreachBT has won the vast majority of government funding available from BDUK, but the process has been controversial. Rivals say the money is effectively state aid, while politicians and residents have complained of a lack of transparency in terms of cost and coverage.

Garner rejected suggestions BT was simply unwilling to invest in areas not covered and maintained that an independent Openreach would not be able to do a better job.

BT’s rivals are calling for Openreach to be spun off entirely as part of the once-in-a-decade review of the UK communications market, the last of which actually resulted in the creation of Openreach as a separate unit within BT in 2005.

TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding has said an independent Openreach would be able to focus entirely on broadband and wouldn’t have to compete for investment with other BT departments like sport. However, Garner said the UK’s fibre rollout had benefited from BT’s research and development capabilities and the company’s willingness to make significant investments.

“The BT Group has made huge investments in fibre and at a time when not many customers were investing,” he continued. “I can tell you categorically, our priority is rolling out fibre. We’re working with local and central government and we’re well on our way to 95 percent coverage. We’re leading Europe on that position and frankly I don’t want anything to get in the way of that.”

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