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Update: can Ofcom’s reforms fix the Openreach network?

Fixing broadband

Ofcom has set out plans for the future of Openreach, the broadband infrastructure network division of BT. But are these reforms enough to make a difference?

In February 2016 Ofcom published the findings of its Strategic Review of Digital Communications. The regulator said Openreach needed to be reformed and make more of its own decisions on strategy and budget, as Ofcom found that while Openreach has an obligation to treat all its customers fairly it still has an incentive to act in the interest of BT.

So after six months of discussion what has Ofcom announced?

Ofcom’s plans for Openreach

Ofcom has announced in its plans that Openreach should:

      • Become a distinct company within BT with its own ‘Articles of Association’ and its Directors should make decisions in the interests of all Openreach’s customers
      • Have its own Board with a majority of non-executive directors, including the Chair, and should not be affiliated to BT Group in any way
      • Ensure Openreach’s Chief Executive should be appointed by, and accountable to, the Openreach Board not BT Group
      • Consult more widely with customers such as Sky and TalkTalk
      • Employ staff directly rather than have staff employed by the BT Group
      • Have a separate strategy and control over budget allocation
      • Independent branding

Last week the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee published a report which warned BT that unless the group reforms and addresses under-investment in the network then it should split from the Openreach network.

At the same time thousands of you were hit by outages across the BT network on Wednesday and Thursday last week with the company saying the issue affected 10 per cent of internet usage. BT Group apologised after fixing the fault on the network.

Ofcom has said that these plans for reform will help deliver ‘the best possible services for people and businesses across the UK’. But has the regulator gone far enough?

Taking action for better broadband

We know that many of you feel frustrated by your internet connection, which is why we want everybody to be able to access good quality broadband, be able to switch provider easily, and ensure automatic compensation is introduced if and when things go wrong with your broadband service.

It’s clear that Ofcom needs to move quickly on these plans and ensure Openreach is genuinely improving services for customers, many of whom have been let down for far too long.

Now is a perfect time for Ofcom to consider the greater role consumers can play in shaping Openreach’s future, as well as sharing their experiences and views on issues such as switching, compensation and a broadband Universal Service Obligation.

We’ll be pushing for many of these measures through the recently announced Digital Economy Bill which making its way through Parliament over the next year. But I want to hear from you.

Update: 30 November 2016

Ofcom has ordered BT to legally separate from Openreach. Back in July, Ofcom announced plans to make Openreach a ‘distinct company’ within the BT group. However, the regulator has found that while some progress has been made by BT, BT’s voluntary plan to address concerns it laid out earlier did not go far enough. The regulator will now start the process to force separation.

Under Ofcom’s plans, the separation would see Openreach manage its own branding and budget, with its own board, chairperson and non-executives that are separate to BT’s.

Update: 10 March 2017

BT has reached a deal with the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, to legally split from Openreach.

Openreach controls the fibre connections, ducting and pipework for the UK’s broadband infrastructure and sells access to other broadband providers.

The telecoms regulator has been preparing for a series of reforms to improve the Openreach service. Reforms have included a forced legal split of BT and Openreach.

Ofcom believes that the plans to make Openreach a distinct company will improve the service for Openreach customers. Openreach will have its own board and make its own strategy decisions, but the BT board will continue to set the annual budget as the 100% shareholder and owner of the company.

Our Managing Director of Home Services, Alex Neill, said:

‘Millions of people have suffered woeful levels of service from Openreach, so these reforms must lead to significant improvements for customers who have been let down for too long.

‘Telecoms are now an essential part of our daily lives, so it’s vital that consumers now really do see better phone and broadband services.’

Do you think this will improve broadband in the UK? Will this lead to better and faster broadband?

t cee says:
21 January 2017

……………..They should have to tell you the exact speed before you sign up…………..
IM WITH VIRGIN PAYING £38.00 PER MONTH FOR 50MB…….I GET 0.5 MB and have been on the phone to them 3 times already today ,yesterday was 7 times.


TC-If you have a contract with VM for fibre broadband at 50Mbps and you only get -0.5Mbps you have every right to say the contract is null+void . BT under new rules , if they cannot supply the range of speeds for your bundle should first of all downgrade your bundle to the next lower fibre service if that is unachievable you are then free to terminate your contract with BT with no loss to yourself , Going by the speed you quote you must be many miles from the cabinet with FTTC OR you have one massive fault. Is VM using BT lines -IE-copper not co-ax or fibre ? This doesn’t sound right something doesn’t add up, do you have a VM box in your house or a VM box outside on your wall it could be grey in colour In any event get back on to VM and tell them they have broken the contract by supplying a line that is not as advertised and you have not got the appropriate service , you should be able to leave without cost to you and get a refund thats if they cant fix it.

Dave Meadmore says:
21 January 2017

Agree. All providers should state a clear working speed range with a minimum and a maximum. For instance there are many BT customers on Infinity 2 when the copper pair will only support lower speeds (mine is at 38Mb) so the customer should be charged at Infinity 1 not Infinity 2. I also agree that there should be a stated minimum service level.
All the following should be included in the adverts.
1) Download Speed Range,
2) Upload Speed range,
3) Network Latency,
4) Contention ratio (shared connection to the back bone)
The last is as important as BT may use different design criteria to say ZEN. If you are sharing with other heavy users you may lose the Internet speed at 8pm on a Saturday or if you are a business this explains why you may be paying premium rates. All ISPs have different back bone arrangements.

However the customer needs to understand that the providers cannot defy the law of physics. So the distance from the exchange matters. If broadband speed is critical to you don’t by a business premises at an old farm or an old wood yard with 10 stretches of overhead drop wire.

The answer of course is Fiber To The Premises (that can properly be called Fiber). Fiber is more elegant and using passive splitters you don’t need those ugly powered street cabinets. However whilst the Government and now Ofcom keep interfering we will never get the long term UK investment we need. Fiber needs to pay back over a longer period (20 years +) if we wish to keep the cost of broadband down. You can’t blame BT or Virgin for not investing if Sky, Talk Talk and others invest nothing in the ground but cream off all the value add profits. Even new housing estates are not getting decent connectivity due to the current Ofcom rules.

Fortunately BT appear to have cracked the interim and will be rolling out G-Fast from July which will provide faster up/down speeds and Virgin will be responding with an update to their infrastructure. This will provide better speeds but these really are only a 10 year stop gap until we get proper Fiber.

If you currently can’t get reasonable speeds in your location whether urban or rural blame Ofcom.

Anything less than 2Mb on ADSL or 10Mb on Fiber/VM indicates a technical fault. VM faults are usually their guys leaving the cabinet doors open to the elements or that they bury their cables at trowel depth. BT faults are usually the RJ11 cable to the router or internal phone wiring. Or in my case electric garage doors spiking the power supply.


Dave I was with you till you mentioned internal wiring – after the Master socket– you own it and can be charged for a call out that finds bad internal wiring/sockets / RF interference / etc BT aren’t liable for the LAN cable attached to the HH5/6 ring mains electrical induced interference either direct or by electrical radiation/induction is your problem . I spent many hours with BT,s very expensive mains analyser proving mains problems in business lines . Yes Dave I solved the internal wiring problem by running cat-5E cable from the junction of the O/H DIRECT to a master socket 1 foot from my PC / router/modem no other internal wiring/sockets – wi-fi not enabled it does make a difference otherwise -good post Dave !

Brian Poole says:
31 January 2017

The best broadband we get is 2m although my friend across the road gets 35m. Openreach won’t upgrade our street, it’s not worth it for them, after all there NOT A SERVICE PROVIDER they are just another money making company that doesn’t care about it’s customers once they are signed up to a contract. Our broadband drops out on a regular basis and we have had no broadband at all since the 19th January 17, tomorrow is 1st Feb and they have estimated two weeks to get us our broadband back. It’s really hard to complain and they keep all the complaints within the company so your not really getting anywhere. They need to be brought to book.


Your wrong Brian they are a network service provider who , due to the government along with the British public ( remember all the screams in the media of -they need to be separated) said we are introducing legislation to make Openreach more accountable to OTHER private telecommunications companies so that there will be a more equal service of installation . What happens is that BT et al – ask Openreach to provide service to a customer of all the telecom companies that don’t install their own lines/ducting , theyb do not communicate directly with the public only through the ISP so if you want to complain ,complain to HMG and all the public who backed this. BY not mentioning BT I take it your service provider is another company ? If so its to them you complain and they in turn contact Openreach if there is a fault . Who is your ISP Brian ? as each has its own methods of complaint . I am not disagreeing with you when you say one side of the street gets a high speed but not your side but that is because they will come off a different street cabinet which has FTTC and I can see as you don’t that would make you angry , but BT and others wont provide FTTC for every one , they check out the number of subscribers who would benefit the most and provide them IE- its down to the majority . You are right money comes into it but BT is a private company and so are all the rest , old telephone “hands ” like me knew this was going to happen when the Nation cried out SELL OFF BT and now decades later the “chickens have come home to roost ” Once every telephone user had equal service no matter where they lived but that was under the GPO Telephones .


Thanks for that information Duncan. We have spoken to a case manager who has informed us that our broadband has been shut off so BT has to set up new broadband and can’t just re-establish our existing broadband. Our contract with BT is nearly finished and the case manager is saying we will have to sign up to a new contract to get our broadband back (which he says will take 48 hours as he will rush it through) and if we don’t, it will take at least 2 weeks to go with someone else. So in effect holding us to ransom. When we asked for compensation for the weeks that we have had no service at all, he said they would give a ‘good will’ gesture (obviously don’t want to admit they are at fault), but will tell us the amount once we have agreed to sign the new contract. They are an awful company and I have had the worst service I’ve ever had from any company ever. I have contacted the ombudsman. I have logged all the details in a note book and I’ve drafted a letter to my local MP and am going to make it my mission to highlight just how badly we have been treated. My children are trying to do there GCSE’s, but can’t do their homework. I am going to complain everywhere I can find that will listen.