BT plans to recruit another 800 engineers this year in an effort to reduce the number of customer complaints about broadband connections, with an additional £50m promised to speed up work connecting new homes and housing developments.
Over the past year the company has recruited about 2,400 extra engineers and put more than 4,300 vans on the road to help repair and install broadband lines.
The investments and pledges come as the future of Openreach, the division of BT that maintains and upgrades the company’s national network, has become a live issue as rivals push for a formal sale or for it to be hived off in some other way from the telecoms group.
Openreach provides access to the UK’s largest fixed-line network both for BT’s retail business and rival retail broadband groups such as Sky and TalkTalk under the same terms.
Ofcom, the industry watchdog, has begun a review of the British telecoms industry that will take the future of Openreach into account. BT, which has argued strongly against splitting off Openreach, intends to show the division is addressing customer complaints.
On Friday, the company said that it had improved services installing and repairing lines in its copper and fibre network across Britain in the first annual review of minimum standards set by Ofcom.
BT passed the minimum standards set by the watchdog last year aimed at reducing dissatisfaction with the service it was providing. It would have missed about a sixth of the same targets the previous year.
The company managed to carry out repairs within two working days about 76 per cent of the time in the past year, which exceeds the 67 per cent minimum set by Ofcom. BT provided appointments for new line installation within 12 days about 93 per cent of the time, against a minimum of 54 per cent, while missed appointments fell from 4.5 per cent to 3.6 per cent.
Joe Garner, chief executive of Openreach, acknowledged there was more to be done to reduce customer complaints. “I don’t want to be a minimum,” he said. “I want to be as close to 100 per cent as possible.”
Mr Garner, the former boss of HSBC in the UK, said the weather had helped. Severe winters and heavy rainfall tends to both cause faults on the BT lines as well as make them harder to repair. “The weather has been kinder,” he said, pointing to about 12 per cent less rainfall than the previous year.
Mr Garner said that this year BT would also concentrate on improving services to businesses given complaints about delays providing dedicated leased “Ethernet” fibre lines.
“The performance to the business community has been less good,” said Mr Garner. “Demand has gone up and we are now going to improve how we provide the service.”
The last review of the sector a decade ago by Ofcom resulted in the existing rules that govern Openreach. Mr Garner said that he could not see any reason to change the status quo. “From what I can see, the ways things are set up has worked well for British consumers.”
BT’s competitors say the group could benefit unfairly from owning both the national broadband network as well as a rapidly growing consumer arm. Rival groups such as Vodafone are also expected to use the review to push for better access to the BT network, including through the provision of so-called “dark fibre” that would allow rivals greater control over their broadband provision.
Mr Garner also questioned the need of such a move. “We can meet customer needs better without dark fibre. Attempting to introduce an additional product line would be a distraction.”