BT Chairman dismisses talk of Openreach sale

BT Chairman Jan du Plessis has dismissed rumours that the telecoms company is considering selling a stake in broadband business Openreach, saying at the company’s annual shareholder meeting that Openreach “remains an important part of the BT group”.

Reports in May suggested that BT was in discussions over a sale of a stake in the business that could be valued at up to £20 billion, more than three times BT’s market value. Australian bank Macquarie and several sovereign wealth funds reported as having held talks with BT over a deal for the Openreach stake.

Those reports prompted Clive Selley, Chief Executive of Openreach, to issue a memo to staff saying that “Openreach is staying in the BT group”, while BT Chief Executive said in May that he was focused on expanding Openreach’s full-fibre broadband network “as fast as we possibly can”.

At the time, it was suggested that the sale of a stake in Openreach could help BT to cover its £50 billion in pension liabilities and net debt of £18.3 billion, as well as helping it fund the rollout of its £12 billion 1Gbps capable FTTP. The company hopes to extend FTTP to 20 million premises in the UK by the mid- to late-2020s.

Jan du Plessis told the annual shareholder meeting that BT was continuing to invest heavily in its network infrastructure and that it had initiated plans to accelerate the rollout of its FTTP broadband network “with a target of reaching 20 million premises by the mid-to-late-2020s, subject to the right political and regulatory support”.

Openreach confirmed earlier this week that it extended its FTTP broadband network to a total of 3 million UK premises, as its rollout continued to accelerate despite the COVID-19 pandemic. It expects to reach 4.5 million premises by March 2021, an increase of 1.5 million on its original forecast.

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