BT plans £6bn upgrade to head off Openreach split

BT posted a 15% rise in pre-tax profits to �3.03bn for the year to March 31
BT posted a 15% rise in pre-tax profits to �3.03bn for the year to March 31

BT has pledged to spend £6 billion on faster mobile and broadband services across the UK over the next three years to see off the threat of a forced split of its network arm.

The telecoms giant - which now owns mobile phone group EE - said it was the first phase under plans to extend ultrafast broadband to 12 million homes and businesses by 2020 and lay fibre optic lines to around two million premises, while also improving coverage of 4G mobile services.

It is hoping the plans will appease regulator Ofcom, which has threatened to break up BT if it does not open up its Openreach fixed-line network arm.

Details of BT’s multibillion-pound plan came as it announced a 15% rise in pre-tax profits to £3.03 billion for the year to March 31 after seeing revenues rise by 6% to £18.9 billion.

But rival broadband provider Sky said BT’s plans to extend fibre optics direct to premises did not go far enough and renewed its call to split off Openreach.

Under the three-year initiative, BT will look to lessen its reliance on ageing copper wire with aims to roll out fibre optics direct to two million homes and businesses - mainly in new housing developments, high streets and business parks.

It also announced a raft of customer service improvements across the group to reduce the standard time to fix line faults by 24 hours as well as pledging to handle 90% of customer calls in the UK by March next year.

The group added that Openreach will hire another 1,000 engineers this year to help improve its service.

But Gavin Patterson, group chief executive at BT, said the group wanted reassurance from Ofcom that it will be able to keep control of Openreach and “give us some confidence that our shareholders are going to make a fair return”.