MPs call for end to BT ‘monopoly’ on broadband

A fibre broadband box in Milfield in north Northumberland.
A fibre broadband box in Milfield in north Northumberland.

MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan has called for an end to BT’s ‘broadband monopoly’, but the company has hit back citing its efforts to equip rural areas.

The Tory MP for Berwick has co-signed a new report, BroadBad, from the cross-party British Infrastructure Group (BIG) of MPs, which calls on the regulator Ofcom to take radical action over the ‘natural monopoly too long enjoyed by BT Openreach’.

The report states that despite £1.7billion of taxpayers’ cash being pumped into subsidising the construction of UK high-speed broadband, there are still 5.7million people across Britain who cannot access the internet at the required 10 Mbps.

However, concerns have been raised on some industry websites that the figures quoted in the report are either inaccurate or outdated.

Mrs Trevelyan said: “Given all the delays and missed deadlines, I believe that 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.”

Responding to the report, a BT spokeswoman said: “In excess of 70 per cent of households in the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency have already been upgraded and this will increase to more than 90 per cent by the end of the current plans.

“Already communities such as Eglingham, Horncliffe, Etal, Glanton, Swarland, Newton-by-the-Sea and Lesbury can access the faster broadband speeds with further locations planned for the second phase of the roll-out.

“Looking at the picture nationally, independent data from the regulator Ofcom, the EU and others repeatedly place the UK number one for broadband and superfast broadband when compared to other large EU countries.

“BT is the only company that has spent billions of pounds delivering broadband to both urban and rural communities.

“We have invested £20billion in our networks over the past decade and that has helped make broadband available to more than 99 per cent of the UK.

“We are now taking next-generation fibre broadband into rural areas with the help of the public sector while other companies stand on the sidelines with their hands in their pockets.

“We would love to flick a switch to make fibre available, but it does involve complex and expensive engineering and that is why our engineers are working flat out to make it available as quickly as possible.”

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “The iNorthumberland programme has had significant success in delivering superfast broadband to communities, including many across north Northumberland (see below).

“We recognise that there is still work to do and continue to work closely with project partners BT, and other suppliers where appropriate, to improve performance in those areas that still suffer from poor speeds.”

The BT spokeswoman added: “More than 145,000 households and businesses across Northumberland are already able to connect to fibre broadband as a result of the iNorthumberland programme and BT’s own commercial roll-out of the high-speed technology, with the majority of premises getting access to some of the best broadband speeds in the UK.

“This network is open, meaning Northumberland residents and businesses wanting to upgrade have a wide choice of fibre broadband providers.

“Also, 90 per cent of UK premises can already access a fibre-optic broadband connection. That will soon climb to 95 per cent and above.”

Settlements across north Northumberland which can now receive superfast broadband are: Norham; Horncliffe; Bowsden; Lowick; Cornhill; Ford; Carham; Etal; Crookham; Milfield; Branxton; Wooler; Chatton; Belford; Fenwick; Holy Island; Bamburgh; Seahouses; Beadnell; Eglingham; Powburn; Glanton; Whittingham; Rothbury; Thropton; Snitter; Cartington; Shilbottle; Swarland; Longframlington; Longhorsley; Longhoughton; Alnmouth; Lesbury; Warkworth; Amble; Hadston; Red Row; Felton; Thirston; Widdrington Station; Ulgham; Hartburn; Middleton; Scots Gap; Harbottle. Other places such as Alnwick and Berwick have been part of BT’s commercial roll-out.