Homes and businesses across the UK could be enjoying 1Gbps broadband by 2020 after BT pledged to invest £6bn in fibre-to-the-premises connections.
The investment will involve laying fibre to about two million homes and businesses across the UK, a process that BT started in 2013 on an on-demand basis for customers connected via selected exchanges, but suspended as it could not keep up with orders.
And following the completion of its acquisition of EE, it also promised to extend "4G and superfast broadband coverage" to 95 per cent of the UK as part of the investment rollout.
It follows a report by Ofcom that fell short of demanding that BT's infrastructure should be floated off from the company. Ofcom instead suggested that BT should be compelled to literally give access to its network infrastructure to rivals so that they can install their own fibre alongside Openreach's cables.
However, it is unclear how much of the pledged £6bn in spending is new investment.
The announcement was made on the same day that BT filed its financial results for the year to the end of March, BT claimed that Openreach and EE will between them invest £6bn in capital expenditure over the next three years in the first phase of a plan to "extend superfast broadband and 4G coverage beyond 95 per cent of the country by 2020".
It continued: "Ultrafast broadband will be deployed to a minimum of 10 million homes and businesses in the same period, subject to regulatory support, with an ambition to reach 12 million. There will be an increased focus on fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology within this plan with the aim being to reach two million premises with the technology, mainly in new housing developments, high streets and business parks."
In recent years, BT has offered to extend fibre to the premises for a price, but that has only been available for customers connected to certain exchanges, and BT has struggled to keep up with demand. Its current fibre offerings are largely fibre to the nearest cabinet, with aging copper lines taking the network signal from the cabinet to the home.
BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson claimed that the investment would enable the company to offer one gigabit per second internet connections to the homes and businesses lucky enough to be included in the first phase of its rollout.
He continued: "Customers want their broadband to be affordable as well as fast and we will be able to do that using G.fast. FTTP will also play a bigger role going forward and I believe it is particularly well suited to those businesses who may need speeds of up to 1Gbps. My ambition is to roll it out to two million premises and our trials give me confidence we will."
Patterson was keen to assert that BT's promise was evidence of a well-functioning, competitive market - one that doesn't require the kind of radical surgery that many people, including MPs, have been urging.
"Networks require money and a lot of it. Virgin and BT have both pledged to invest and we will now see if others follow our lead. Infrastructure competition is good for the UK and so is the current Openreach model whereby others can piggyback on our investment should they want to," said Patterson.
The announcement was made as BT unveiled full-year revenues of £18.9bn - an increase of six per cent - and profit before tax of just over £3bn, up by 15 per cent compared to fiscal 2015.
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