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BT CEO urges government, regulators to aid fiber broadband rollout

BT Group CEO Philip Jansen said the telco is ready to accelerate fiber rollout to fulfill the new U.K. government's plans for countrywide broadband by 2025, eight years ahead of the prior target.

However, he urged the government to commit to public funding for the build-out of cables to premises, or full fiber, without "undue bureaucracy and complications."

Speaking on an earnings call Aug. 2, Jansen also called on the country's media regulator Ofcom to "level the playing field" between telecom providers and power and water companies when it comes to ease of infrastructure build-out.

The switch to faster fiber broadband requires replacing older copper cables with high-speed optical lines going into buildings. Jansen likened the change to the switch from analog to digital television.

Ofcom said in May that only 7% of U.K. properties had full fiber broadband. The U.K.'s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to increase that to 100% over the next six years, though he has not allocated a budget for this.

Jansen said more than £30 billion would be required to get fiber to all homes. He added that BT is currently connecting 20,000 premises per week, with plans to increase that to 30,000 by the end of its fiscal year.

"On network investment, we welcome the government's ambition for full fiber broadband across the country and we are confident we will see further steps to stimulate investment," Jansen said in a statement.

"We are ready to play our part to accelerate the pace of rollout, in a manner that will benefit both the country and our shareholders, and we are engaging with the government and Ofcom on this."

Openreach Ltd., BT's phone and broadband network business, announced Aug. 1 that it was adding 36 more full fiber locations over the next 12 months, bringing its total to 74. Thus far, about 1.5 million premises have been connected, with plans to cover 4 million by March 2021 and 15 million by 2025.

BT revenue for the first quarter to June was £5.63 billion, down 1% year over year. Openreach revenue for the quarter was up 1% year over year to £1.27 billion.

Revenue from the company's operations outside the U.K. dropped 5% year over year to £1.09 billion in the quarter. The decline was due to BT selling noncore units, Jansen said. The company divested business units in Italy, Spain and Ireland to focus on the U.K.

Group profit before tax for the quarter fell to £642 million from £704 million year over year. Profit after tax also dipped in the fiscal first quarter to £505 million from £549 million a year earlier. The effective tax rate was 21.3% on reported profit and 20.8% on adjusted profit.

The company said it was on track to meet its full-year outlook. At BT's annual general meeting, Jansen said the telco could cut its dividend in a year or two.