Finance

BT launches overhaul of Openreach: Telecom giant to airbrush itself from branding in bid to salvage battered reputation

BT is poised to overhaul Openreach’s public image in a bid to repair its battered reputation.

The telecom giant will begin airbrushing itself from all branding of its network and cable arm within weeks – and even remove the BT logo from 23,000 Openreach vans.

Openreach will also seek talks with BT’s rivals about how it can work more closely with them to improve services, including possible joint investments in state-of-the-art cables.

Rebrand: BT will begin airbrushing itself from all branding of its network and cable arm within weeks – and even remove the BT logo from 23,000 Openreach vans

The charm offensive comes as BT attempts to establish Openreach as an independent company after complaints from rivals about poor service and long-standing pressure from regulator Ofcom.

BT, a former state monopoly, effectively owns Britain’s telecoms network through Openreach, and rivals such as Sky, Vodafone and Talk Talk rely on it to offer broadband, phone and television packages.

They have long complained Openreach treats them unfairly, has under-invested in broadband infrastructure and takes too long to carry out repairs which customers often hold them responsible for.

But in March BT finally caved in to Ofcom’s demands and agreed to hive off Openreach into a separate company with its own staff and management board.

Openreach will set its own strategies and control assets but its spending decisions will still be constrained by budgets set by BT. This stops short of the full independence some rivals have called for, which they believe can only be achieved if BT sells it.

Openreach chief executive Clive Selley has been keen to trumpet the changes, however, and has said he wants to collaborate more with BT’s rivals.

‘It’s now time to get around a table and figure out how we do it,’ he told broadcaster Bloomberg.

As an early symbolic change, Openreach will remove all mention of its parent company from logos across more than 23,000 vans and the uniforms of about 25,000 field engineers.

It had committed to doing this after it officially becomes a limited company – something that is not expected to happen until next spring – but bosses are understood to have decided to move quicker.

In the long term, the legal separation is not expected to complete until the company has finished transferring some 32,000 employees to new pension arrangements.

Ofcom has said it will closely monitor BT’s future dealings with Openreach, which must now make investment decisions ‘on behalf of the whole industry’.

Openreach has previously been accused by rivals of not investing enough in fibre optic cables, while its recently launched ultrafast G.fast broadband service still using old copper lines.

A consultation launched in the coming months will try to tackle these criticisms, however, asking providers how they believe the fibre network could be expanded directly to people’s homes. But rivals remain sceptical.

A Sky spokesman said: ‘Early signs suggest their plans will take them in the right direction.’ But he added that ‘their actions have to be louder than their words’.

A Talk Talk spokesman said: ‘It’s critical that Openreach uses its new freedoms to invest more in faster, more reliable services.’

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