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Is your broadband really 'broadbad'? MPs call for network rethink

As Ofcom deliberates over the future of the UK broadband industry and a nervous BT awaits its decision, UK lawmakers criticise the telco's performance.

The future is uncertain for BT.

Image: Adam Liversage/BT

Next month Ofcom is due to announce its decision on whether BT should be forced to divest its Openreach broadband business or not. For some months now, Ofcom has been deliberating over the future of the UK telecoms market -- and industry watchers are awaiting the result.

In the meantime the telecoms operator is facing criticism from a panel of MPs, known as the British Infrastructure Group (BIG), under the chairmanship of Grant Shapps. The group has published a report which claims: "Only a formal separation of BT from Openreach, combined with fresh competition and a concerted ambition to deliver, will now create the broadband service that our constituents and businesses so rightly demand."

The report -- punningly entitled Broadbad -- also claims that "Openreach has so far received £1.7bn in taxpayer subsidies to connect harder to reach areas of the UK to superfast services", which it has "repeatedly failed to deliver".

BT CEO Patterson: If BT was forced to sell Openreach it would "create huge uncertainty and create a weaker company that ultimately could be vulnerable to takeover".

Photo: BT

The news did not get any better with conclusion number two of the report: "Around 5.7 million people in the UK have internet connections that do not reach Ofcom's 'acceptable' minimum speed of 10Mbit/s," it said, and, "3.5 million of these people live in rural areas".

"Poor internet connections are costing the UK economy up to £11 billion per year," the report continued.

SMEs are particularly hard hit, with 42 percent saying they suffered from problems with their internet connections and another 29 percent complaining about its reliability, according to the report.

Broadband scarcity in rural areas is not just a problem for old farmhouses: according to broadband advice website Cable.co.uk, new homes are being built every day with little or no provision for broadband.

"The building firms blame the network providers, the network providers blame the building firms, while the homebuyers ultimately suffer," said Cable's editor-in-chief Dan Howdle.

"When you buy a newly built house, you expect service provision to be cutting edge. Sadly, the complete opposite is true, with many new-build buyers receiving 1Mbps or less with no plans to improve the situation for years to come."

How does BT respond? BT CEO Gavin Pattison told the BBC that "over 90 percent of UK premises could access superfast broadband".

He added that, if BT was forced to sell off Openreach, this would "create huge uncertainty and create a weaker company that ultimately could be vulnerable to takeover".

The British Infrastructure Group is comprised of 121 member MPs, or one fifth of the House of Commons.

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