Coronavirus makes Boris Johnson's broadband upgrade pledge tough, says BT chief

The telecoms boss remains determined to deliver on a UK broadband upgrade

The boss of BT has admitted it will be “tough” for the Prime Minister to deliver on his pledge of a nationwide broadband upgrade by 2025, but has insisted it is still possible.

Philip Jansen, chief executive of the former state telecoms monopoly, said that despite the lockdown and expected deep recession, he “wouldn’t give up completely” on one of the Conservatives’ main election promises.

Boris Johnson pledged that every home in the UK will have access to gigabit broadband by the middle of the decade.

Mr Jansen, who has made a full recovery from a coronavirus infection, said: “It’s harder, but you could get to a situation where you’re close. It’s made a bit tougher by the Covid impact.”

BT has renewed its lobbying campaign for tax breaks on full-fibre investment, arguing that in the post-pandemic economy better broadband will help underpin new ways of working.

BT last week suspended its dividend and cut future payouts to help fund a £12bn boost in investment. It plans to replace 20 million copper telephone lines with faster and more reliable fibre optics by the “mid to late-2020s”.

BT expects to build a maximum of three million lines per year, on top of 2.5 million already upgraded.

Mr Jansen said that to hit the 2025 target Mr Johnson will “need other people to build around that”. There are roughly 30 million homes in Britain.

Half the country – almost all in cities and large towns – is already covered by Virgin Media’s cable network, which can be upgraded to gigabit speeds relatively quickly and cheaply. BT is likely to focus on many of the same areas as it seeks to compete.

Mr Jansen signalled he does not intend to oppose the £31bn merger of Virgin Media and the mobile operator O2, saying it may herald a more “rational” telecoms market.