Government plans to make it a legal right to request an affordable broadband connection of at least 10Mbps by 2020 – the universal service obligation (USO) – have been thrown into doubt by BT.
The performance of BT’s Openreach broadband division has been blasted by MPs, who blamed it for leaving millions of people across the country with sub-standard broadband connections.
Now ministers are threatening to force BT to sell Openreach, while at the same time looking for a company capable of fulfilling the USO.
Sean Williams, BT’s chief strategy officer, told MPs at an evidence session in Westminster last week: “We have made clear our willingness to deliver 10Mbps to every premises in the country by 2020 without any further public funding or progressing the USO regulations.
“Our objective here is to give Ofcom and the Government comfort it can be done.”
But BT sources later made it clear this could only happen by 2020 if the company is not broken up and the Government does not enshrine the right to a 10Mbps connection in law, which BT claims will tie it up in red tape.
The decision could have a huge impact on farming businesses. Only 4 per cent of farmers have access to superfast broadband and many thousands live in remote rural areas which are hard to connect.
Charles Trotman, senior rural business adviser at the CLA, said: “We want a legal requirement set out in law which guarantees 10Mbps to everyone.
“We don’t support any recommendation for the break-up of BT. Given its position, BT is the best company to take forward plans to fulfil the USO.”