• The Fix Britain’s Internet campaign

    I have been contacted by constituents regarding the Fix Britain’s Internet campaign, which is calling for Openreach to be separated from British Telecom (BT). I know that concerns have been raised that BT has underinvested in Openreach, leading to poor service which has resulted in customers experiencing service interruptions and slow speeds. I also understand that Openreach has faced criticism for delaying the installation of ultra-fast broadband.

    In 2016, Ofcom announced the initial conclusions of its Strategic Review of Digital Communications, including plans for a more independent Openreach, and in July launched a consultation on its proposals for Openreach to become a legally separate company within the BT Group. This consultation closed on 4 October and I will follow developments closely.

    As you may be aware, the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee recently published a report which calls on BT to invest significantly more in Openreach. The Committee also supports Ofcom’s plans for establishing greater separation between Openreach and the BT Group, but argues that if BT fails to offer necessary reforms and investment assurances, Ofcom should move to enforce full separation of Openreach.

    I believe it is important Openreach implements more ambitious service standards and is much more responsive to consumers, as far too many customers have experienced a lack of access to broadband and poor quality service. I believe it is right that Ofcom should decide on the future of Openreach and should be supported to ensure the most competitive environment possible. I am concerned that the Government has failed to foster a competitive communications market, both in in mobile and fixed, and believe that more competition means better service, more investment and lower prices for businesses and consumers and that Ofcom should be supported to make sure that happens.

    More widely, I believe we need a digital industrial strategy to ensure everyone benefits from the digital revolution, particularly as research has shown that faster broadband speeds would add up to £17 billion to the UK economy by 2024. It is therefore disappointing that the Government has abandoned the previous Labour Government’s commitment to fully funded universal broadband. I am concerned the Government lacks a coherent strategy and has repeatedly failed to hit its targets on broadband rollout, costing the economy billions in lost productivity gains and new jobs; and denying millions of people the economic and social benefits provided by the Internet.

    The Government’s Digital Economy Bill contains measures to create the right for every household to access a minimum broadband speed of 10 megabits per second by 2020. While I welcome the proposed broadband Universal Service Obligation, it is disappointing that it has taken so long for it to be introduced. Indeed, it is now four years after the last Labour Government’s commitment to universal broadband for all would have come into force.

    I can assure you that my Labour colleagues and I will hold the Government to account on how it plans to improve communications infrastructure and connectivity as the Digital Economy Bill progresses through Parliament.