(Adds Ofcom CEO comments)
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, March 2 BT, Britain's biggest
telecoms group, vowed to improve customer service for its
millions of residential consumers and the other telecoms
companies that rely on its network after widespread criticism.
Chief Executive Gavin Patterson said the company had been
taken aback by the criticism it received in a regulatory review
of the industry which focused on BT's Openreach unit that runs
the national broadband network.
"Around the DCR (Digital Communications Review), I think it
is fair to say we underestimated the degree of criticism in our
service and in our levels of investment, this has eroded trust
in our brand," he said at the Deloitte and Enders Analysis Media
& Telecoms conference on Thursday.
BT has endured a rough ride in recent months, battling with
the regulator Ofcom over how it should run the Openreach unit,
cutting its profit forecast due to a downturn in British public
sector work and discovering fraud in Italy.
Patterson said the company had listened to the criticism and
was open to taking on board the interests of its Openreach
customers when deciding how much to invest. He added that he
hoped to be able to agree a settlement with Ofcom on the issue.
"When it comes to our (consumer and business) customers, let
me be absolutely clear, our service must get better," he said.
BT's rivals, including Sky, TalkTalk and
Vodafone, say Openreach delivers poor service, does not
invest enough in the network and is run to serve BT's bottom
line rather than the interests of Britain's broadband needs.
Ofcom Chief Executive Sharon White, speaking on the
sidelines of the conference, said BT could "settle tomorrow" the
long-running dispute if it agreed to the regulator's demand to
make Openreach completely separate, legally as well as
operationally, from the rest of the group.
Ofcom believes reform would spur investment in the ageing
network and has said it will go to the European Commission to
try to force its plan, but White added that "the door was always
open with BT".
Patterson, who has turned BT into a more powerful competitor
by acquiring mobile operator EE and snapping up TV sports
rights, said the downturn in recent months had been "humbling"
for all at BT.
He reinvigorated BT by taking on rival Sky in the sports
rights market, paying 897 million pounds for a three-year deal
for Champions League soccer rights.
The two will go head-to-head again in the coming weeks when
they bid again for those rights, which could see another jump in
the price paid. Patterson, however, said rampant inflation in
sports rights would eventually ease.
"We have made it very clear we do not need to be number one
in the sport market, but we need to be a viable number two," he
said. "If you look at the sports market itself, it is pretty
some point in the future we can find a more stable equilibrium."
(Editing by Kate Holton and Elaine Hardcastle)