What is BT Openreach?

It sounds like an advanced yoga move, and it’s certainly every bit as painful if you ever have to deal with it.

BT Openreach is the part of BT responsible for maintaining the telecoms and broadband network – the wires, poles, ducts and all the other strings and yoghurt pots that go into a modern communications network. BT Openreach doesn’t only serve BT Retail, the company from which you might buy your telephone and broadband connection, but all the other broadband providers, such as TalkTalk, Sky and PlusNet (which is also owned by BT, despite the ‘straight-talking broadband bloke from Yorkshire’ tripe they peddle in their advertising).

The problem is BT Openreach isn’t very good. It’s been roundly criticised by broadband providers and regulator Ofcom for taking ages to fix broadband problems and install new lines. If you’ve ever had a problem with your broadband, you’re probably all too aware of the game of tech support tennis that occurs as your fault is bounced between the customer service desks of your broadband provider and Openreach, until you pull a Michael Douglas in Falling Down and turn up in reception with a shotgun until one of them sort it out (The Big Tech Question does not endorse this course of action).

Ofcom has been threatening to rip Openreach out of BT’s hands for some time, but now the regulator and BT appear to have reached something of a kludge to settle the dust-up. Openreach, while remaining fully owned by BT, will become a ‘legally separate entity’ – which is the corporate equivalent of living in separate bedrooms while remaining under the same roof.

Openreach will have its own board of “independent” directors, 32,000 of its own staff, and a “strategy to treat each of its customers equally” – an attempt to head off criticism that Openreach favoured BT Retail when it came to fixing broadband faults and so forth.

Will it make a blind bit of difference to the time it takes to fix your broadband? Who knows? The only ones guaranteed to benefit from this are the lawyers picking up fat fees for unpicking the two companies. So that’s smashing.

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at

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