What will the OpenReach separation mean for customers?

You may have heard that the telecoms regulator, OFCOM, have called for BT OpenReach to be separated from the rest of the BT group of companies due to concerns about fairness and quality of service. But what does this really mean for customers and will is help keep bills lower?

Who are BT OpenReach?

BT, formerly British Telecom, is a group of companies which provide telecoms, research and development and Internet services to clients around the globe, but they are best known to British consumers as a telephone company (which in truth, is just a tiny part of what they do). One of those companies is BT OpenReach who are tasked with managing the infrastructure (wiring, exchanges, street cabinets and telegraph poles) as well as installing new lines when needed and upgrading it as new technologies come along (such as fibre-optic broadband) and fixing faults.


Why have OpenReach been asked to split from the rest of BT?

There are two main reasons why OFCOM have been asked to split.

The first is that, regardless of who you get your broadband or landline services from (with the exception of Virgin and Kingston Communications) your services travel over the infrastructure managed BT OpenReach. To prevent BT OpenReach from giving their own telephone and Internet customers priority, OpenReach is supposed to treat all faults and installation requests with equal priority, but there many been many complains that this hasn’t been happening.

The second issue is that OFCOM are concerned that BT have not been funding OpenReach properly, taking money from line rental sales and installation charges and spending it on buying sports events for their TV services. Customer service satisfaction levels are considered to be well below what OFCOM consider to be reasonable which they feel is an indicator that OpenReach has not been properly funded.


How will the split change things?

OFCOM have told BT that OpenReach must now been an independent company within BT, with it’s own board of directors and ability to manage it’s own money. It’s hoped that this will mean that it will be able to fund it’s self properly, improving customer service quality and allowing it to accelerate the roll-out of new, faster broadband technologies.

Some people in the industry had called for OpenReach to be completely split from the BT group, but OFCOM felt that this wasn’t necessary at the moment.


What will this mean for customers?

Unfortunately, that’s not an easy question to answer. Although it’s hoped that bill prices will fall, customer service improve and broadband speed improve, but it’s too early to say for sure.

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