UK: BT chief defends Government support for fibre broadband roll out

BT chief executive Ian Livingston

BT chief executive Ian Livingston - Credit: PA

BT chief Ian Livingston has rounded on critics who claim that the telecoms giant is being unfairly subsidised by the Government to roll out fibre broadband across the UK.

In an interview, he described the complainants as “copper luddites” for trying to hold the UK back from fibre, which can be four times faster than existing networks.

BT is spending £2.5billion of its own cash to connect two-thirds of the country to the new network by the end of 2014, but it plans to tap Government help to reach rural areas that are less commercially viable.

Sir Charles Dunstone, the billionaire founder of mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse, which owned BT rival TalkTalk until 2010, recntly called for regulatory intervention to ensure this state help remains in the public interest.

TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding has also entered the debate, adding that more needs to be done to avoid propping up a “monopoly provider”.

She pointed to how Fujitsu recently left a £680million bidding process for Government-backed rural broadband contracts, leaving BT as the “only eligible competitor”.

But Mr Livingston shrugged off claims that BT was rebuilding its former monopoly, highlighting rules that force it to pay the same cost to access its network as competitors such as TalkTalk.

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“These criticisms are coming from people I can only describe as copper Luddites,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “They don’t want to see the UK getting fibre. BT fibre is open to any provider in the UK on the same terms as BT. There are 50 or 60 of them – that’s not what I call a monopoly.”

BT is also not the only player rolling out super-fast broadband services, with Virgin Media currently covering a vast swathe of the country with its own fibre network.

Together they are estimated to cover roughly 95% of the UK superfast broadband market.

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