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BT chief backs Johnson’s £30bn full-fibre pledge

New government targets to roll out full-fibre broadband across the UK by 2025 could cost £30bn, BT’s chief executive Philip Jansen has revealed.

Plans to accelerate the roll-out by eight years formed a key part of Boris Johnson’s campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister last month.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Jansen said he welcomed the new prime minister’s ambition and is “confident we will see further steps to stimulate investment”.

“We are ready to play our part to accelerate the pace of roll-out, in a manner that will benefit both the country and our shareholders, and we are engaging with the government and (regulator) Ofcom,” he added according to Reuters.

BT expects it will need to hire 30,000 more engineers to carry out the project in time, while also requiring new regulation mandating customers to switch to faster services. Jansen added: “If we can do that, then I know BT can go both faster and further than our current fiber build ambitions.”

Johnson has described the previous government’s deadline of 2033 as “laughably unambitious”. But not all experts are convinced that the pledge will solve Britain’s digital divide.

Writing for NS Tech in June, Helen Milner, the chief executive of digital inclusion charity Good Things Foundation, criticised Johnson for not also pledging to train up those who cannot use the internet.

Milner said: “Not once in his Telegraph piece announcing his “ending the digital divide” pledge does Johnson mention the skills and resources needed to participate in, and benefit from, the online world.

“The roll-out of full fibre broadband must be achieved in conjunction with a commitment to free digital skills provision and a consideration of how to make connectivity affordable to really end the digital divide.”