MPs call for BTs broadband monopoly to be broken up for good of the nation

Broadband customers are suffering “dire” internet connections at home and at work and the situation is “untenable”, a coalition of more than 100 cross-party MPs has warned.

A “staggering” 5.7 million people do not receive the minimum expected download speeds as stipulated by Ofcom, while some customers experience “no service at all”, according to a study endorsed by 121 MPs.

The poor service can leave customers waiting up to two hours to download an hour-long video, and have forced some businesses to close in the worst-affected parts of the country, the researchers say.

“There are still a staggering 5.7 million people across Britain who cannot access the internet at the Ofcom required 10 megabits per second. But the problem is even worse for businesses.”

Despite the Government spending £1.7 billion on improving broadband, businesses are struggling and Britain is now lagging behind other countries including Japan, South Korea, and Spain, the report warns.

The research, published by Grant Shapps, the former Cabinet minister, says Britain’s network of “outdated” copper cables must be entirely replaced with a super-fast “fibre” system.

It recommends a radical overhaul of the internet market and calls for the break-up of the “monopoly” that BT holds on the cable network.

BT’s Openreach division, which owns and maintains the cables, must be sold off to promote competition and improve the quality of internet services more quickly, the report says.

The radical conclusion is endorsed by 121 MPs from across parties who joined together to sign a letter to the Telegraph.

Their support will intensify pressure on the Government and Ofcom to act.

The regulator has been reviewing the operation of the sector and is expected to publish its findings within weeks.

The study details the connection speeds in every part of the country, and warns that the poor level of internet service “is untenable”.

“Whilst rural small and medium-sized enterprises and consumers are left with dire speeds or even no service at all, Openreach makes vast profits and finds little reason to invest in the network, install new lines or even fix faults in a properly timely manner,” the report says.

“We deserve better. We should be leading the world on digital investment and innovation. Instead we have a company that clings to outdated copper technology with no long-term plan for the future.”

The report warns that companies are being “held back” by slow internet connections. It says 42 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses report problems with their internet connections, at an estimated cost of £11  billion to the economy. The letter’s signatories include the former Tory Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and Liam Fox, as well as 23 Labour MPs, with support from Liberal Democrats, Ukip, Plaid Cymru and the SNP.

The MPs say: “There are still a staggering 5.7 million people across Britain who cannot access the internet at the Ofcom required 10 megabits per second. But the problem is even worse for businesses.”

Mr Shapps said the public was furious with slow internet speeds. He added that he knew of individuals who had closed their businesses because of inadequate broadband speeds.

The report is the first publication of the British Infrastructure Group, which Mr Shapps formed in Parliament to campaign for action on major national construction projects.

A BT spokesman said the report was “misleading and ill-judged”.

“Ofcom, the EU and others repeatedly place the UK number one for broadband and superfast broadband when compared to other large EU countries,” he said. “The idea that there would be more broadband investment if BT’s Openreach infrastructure division became independent is wrong-headed. As a smaller, weaker, standalone company, it would struggle to invest as much as it does.”

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the report was “misleading”, insisting that the Government’s plan for superfast broadband to cover 95 per cent of the UK by 2017 was “on track and under budget”.