Ofcom chiefs to face MPs on BT and media policy

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Sharon White and Patricia Hodgson to face questions from members of UK Parliament as BT rivals complain about broadband policy

As a committee of UK parliamentarians prepare to interview the top people in the country’s telecoms regulator, BT’s rivals are lining up to criticise the incumbent over broadband plans.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee of the House of Commons is due to quiz Ofcom CEO Sharon White and the regulator’s chairman, Patricia Hodgson, on Tuesday morning.

According to an email from the committee, members are “expected to discuss the Fox/Sky merger following Ofcom’s report which suggested there were grounds for an investigation of the Murdoch’s family control of the UK news landscape”.

They will also ask questions about the BBC, six months after Ofcom took on the role of regulator of the nationally owned broadcaster from a trust.

But what has got the telecoms industry worked up is BT’s plans to spend £600 million on upgrading its national fibre infrastructure.

Russell Crampin, UK managing director of Axians, said: “BT’s proposal, in our opinion, is delaying much-needed competition in fibre broadband, at a time when the cost of the technology continues to come down and it begins to merge with traditional networks.”

Citigroup said that BT faces an increase in capital expenditure and the loss of wholesale customers because of the move. “Our estimate changes leave BT looking reasonably valued compared to peers, indeed somewhat expensive on [free cash flow] yield. The main changes are the increase in capital expenditure and the loss of around 1.5 million wholesale customers longer-term,” said the bank. It expects rival fibre operators to take market away from BT’s Openreach last-mile subsidiary.

The DCMS committee will be questioning White and Hodgson at 10:30 UK time on Tuesday. The session will be streamed online. The Secretary of State for DCMS, Karen Bradley, will appear before the committee on Wednesday.

The committee suggested that it would also ask White and Hodgson about the potential effect on UK consumers of the country’s departure from the European Union.