Lincolnshire’s Bryn Davies asked the B4RL Facebook group the question: “Will it help us get better broadband into rural areas if BT is split from BT Openreach?”. At the time I posted a quick response to the effect “probably not” but Facebook comments don’t really give the space to properly answer a question like this. So here goes…
There are two parts to my thinking on this – timing and the impact.
If there is will to split Openreach out of BT Group it won’t happen over night – it’s likely to take years, way beyond the current rural broadband policy timescales, and way beyond this parliament. In principle the split would allow an independent Openreach to make independent investment decisions but this will take time to evolve with the BT culture deeply embedded within Openreach veins. It’s likely to take some time post-separation before Openreach starts to think differently, especially as the residual BT Group will remain its biggest customer.
So the first part of my answer is that assuming a split it helpful, it’s likely to require the final 5-10% of the UK to wait a very long time to see the impact.
Once Openreach learns to make strategic decisions in its own newly found image it can’t be assumed that they will be radically different from those of BT Group. Openreach would still be a scale business where exceptions become very costly, very quickly.
The hardest to reach areas are generally exceptions – they are the odds and ends that can’t be delivered using a vanilla national architecture – the long lines, the exchange lines, the poor joints, the low-grade aluminium, etc.
To my thinking these areas will never be addressable by a scale fixed-line operator without ripping up much of its current infrastructure. If the split had been done before BT embarked on a massive deployment of FttC then perhaps things might be different – perhaps – but it wasn’t and Openreach will need to start from where BT Group left off.
There may be very good arguments for splitting Openreach from BT but I very much doubt delivering deeply rural broadband will be one of them.
The final few percent is not about BT – its the domain of the niche specialists.