Monday, 19 November 2018

Openreach CEO throws down the gauntlet, calls for ‘right kind of Brexit’

Jayne Brooks
Wednesday 07 November 18

The CEO of Openreach has told alternative network providers to “bring it on” as he took part in a keynote debate during the INCA Annual Conference 2018. Speaking alongside Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, Clive Selley recognised that the UK broadband market is becoming increasingly competitive – but said that Openreach is committed to being the country’s national provider. “This is hugely exciting time in the evolution of our industry because [alternative network providers] are building networks and what this has provoked is the competitive environment we are now all enjoying…

The CEO of Openreach has told alternative network providers to “bring it on” as he took part in a keynote debate during the INCA Annual Conference 2018.

Speaking alongside Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, Clive Selley recognised that the UK broadband market is becoming increasingly competitive – but said that Openreach is committed to being the country’s national provider.

“This is hugely exciting time in the evolution of our industry because [alternative network providers] are building networks and what this has provoked is the competitive environment we are now all enjoying,” he said. “And we are up for it – bring it on. We’ll see who can build fast, who can build high quality and who can hit the right cost points.”

Selley went on to credit INCA with stimulating the increased competitiveness, adding: “It’s going to be an exciting decade ahead as we charge at the fibre build.”

These comments concluded a fierce debate between Selley and Mesch, who covered a number of different topics, including regulation, with Mesch stating that a level playing field was key to foster investment. He highlighted that as the Government’s Future Telecoms Review did not come with any budget to spend, the majority of funding would have to come from private companies. For that, he said, new regulations would be needed that guaranteed a decent return for all players.

“Creating the regulatory environment that allows investment to grow and creates a level playing field has not quite been there – it still needs to be shaped and that is a critical component,” he continued. “This country needs a more competitive fibre infrastructure and I don’t think it should come from Virgin or BT, it should come from someone CityFibre-esque, i.e. a third party, because we are trying to spark the economy and the economy gets sparked when we bring in gigabit speeds for a lower cost.”

For Selley, key Government “enablers” for operators to successfully increase the amount of fibre in UK broadband networks include making it easier to get into multi-dwelling buildings to do the wiring, more amenable arrangements for street works and reduced tax on fibre infrastructures. He continued with a call the right kind of Brexit.

“We also need the right kind of Brexit,” he said. “We need access to EU labour in order to do the labour-intensive job of fibering up the UK. The Government is correct in maintaining access to highly skilled UK labour, but it also needs to maintain access to the workforce that puts in splitters and creates aggregation nodes, etc.”

During the session, the issue of overbuild was also touched on, with Mesch calling for open competition, adding: “It is about freeing up innovation and new challengers, not about protecting incumbents.”

In response, Selley predicted that “we will see significant overbuild,” stating that Openreach will target 30 million homes and deliver a large fibre footprint as quickly as possible, taking very little notice of what others are doing.

The battle for fibre supremacy will continue at Connected Britain in June 2019 where more than 1,000 stakeholders in the connectivity debate will gather. To find out more visit totaltele.com/connectedbritain

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