BT to invest £6bn in network upgrade and improve customer service

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BT has unveiled a £6 billion programme to upgrade its network in a move to extend ultrafast broadband to at least 10 million homes and businesses and lay fibre optic lines to around two million premises across the UK.

The telecoms giant also pledged to improve its customer service under the major investment plans as it sought to appease regulator Ofcom, which has threatened to force a split of its Openreach fixed-line network arm.

Details of BT's multibillion-pound plan came as it announced a 15% rise in pre-tax profits to £3.03 billion for the year to March 31 after seeing revenues rise by 6% to £18.9 billion.

Part of the three-year initiative will see BT focus on replacing its ageing copper wire that most homes rely on for internet access, with aims to roll out fibre optics to two million homes and businesses - mainly in new housing developments, high streets and business parks.

It comes after Ofcom recently stopped short of ordering a split of Openreach, but told BT it must cut prices charged for high-speed lines, install more business lines and improve business services.

BT said the £6 billion investment marked the first phase of a plan to extend ultrafast broadband to a minimum of 10 million premises, with aims for it to reach 12 million by 2020.

It also announced a raft of customer service improvements across the group to reduce the standard time to fix line faults by 24 hours as well as pledging to handle 90% of customer calls in the UK by March next year.

The group added that Openreach will hire another 1,000 engineers this year to help improve its service.

Gavin Patterson, group chief executive at BT, said: "The UK is a digital leader today and it is vital that it remains one in the future."

He added that the group needed to "work hard" to meet increasing customer expectations.

He said: "That is why contact centre work is being returned to the UK and why Openreach is aiming to halve the number of missed appointments within a year.

"Customers want higher standards of service and we are determined to provide them with just that."

Ofcom told BT earlier this year that it must open up its Openreach network to competitors in its first significant review of the telecoms sector for a decade.

It is also enforcing tougher rules on faults, repairs and installations for consumers, clearer information on service quality, and automatic compensation for consumers when services are disrupted.