BT chairman blasts critics for wanting to separate it from OpenReach network
BT chairman Sir Mike Rake has blasted critics for wanting to separate the company’s Openreach network, saying that without its investment in Britain’s telecoms system “there would be nothing”.
He said it would be counter-intuitive to break up the firm just as BT embarks on further upgrades for Openreach, which develops and maintains the UK’s main telecoms network used by telephone and broadband providers such as Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and BT Consumer.
Speaking on the sidelines of an event where he signed a new military covenant reaffirming BT’s commitment to the UK’s armed forces, Sir Mike told the Press Association: “We’re hopeful to reach a solution. As I have said, we have invested £10 billion over the past 10 years. Without us there would be nothing.”
“Those who have criticised us were not willing to support fibre take-up when we started the investment. We have 95% (of the UK) covered with super-fast broadband. By 2020 we’ll have a much higher percentage of 97% or 98%,” he said.
“I think common sense says, why would you do something to damage a great British company that is investing in the future and can complete that investment?”
The telecoms watchdog said that it would take formal proceedings with the European Commission to force BT to legally separate its Openreach network arm after it said plans to appease competition concerns fell short.
Competitors including TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding said in November that Ofcom’s plans for legal separation were a “step in the right direction”.
Sir Mike’s comments were made at BT Tower where he lauded the company for being one of the country’s largest employers and supporters of army reservists and ex-armed forces personnel.
“I see it as part of our responsibility to communities we work in,” Sir Mike said.
He said BT has “come a long way” over the last eight or nine years and will continue to challenge competitors like Sky – which is the target of an £11.7 billion takeover bid by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.
“We’ll continue to compete. All we ask for is a level playing field, particularly from a regulatory point of view as Sky becomes part of a much larger organisation.”
Sir Mike, who is expected to step down this autumn after a decade at BT, previously served as president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and was easyJet’s chairman, as well as a non-executive director of Barclays.
When asked whether he was worried over the possibility of the UK leaving the EU’s single market following the Brexit vote, he said the business community was “absolutely clear” that it would have been better to stay in the EU.
“We were the ‘sick man’ of Europe in 1975 when we joined the European Union and all the growth that we have had has been part of a 550 million (consumer) market where 45% of our exports go.”
He added: “It’s obvious that the business community and those organisations would like to remain in the single market, even if we’re outside the European Union. And whether that’s possible or not depends on the negotiations that take place.”