LONDON (Reuters) - Facing a sustained attack from rivals, Britain's BT pledged to improve the speed and quality of the country's broadband network on Tuesday in a bid to ward off calls for the dominant telecoms provider to be broken up.
Setting out plans to improve coverage in rural areas where services can be slow, BT Chief Executive Gavin Patterson said the firm would provide new minimum speeds of 5-10 megabits per second and expand its fiber coverage.
The broadband market leader, which is buying mobile operator EE, owns the national copper and fiber networks that serve rivals like Sky and TalkTalk as well as BT's own residential and business customers.
The networks division Openreach is managed at arm's length, but critics say the structure allows BT to abuse its dominant market position and has hampered investment.
They have stepped up calls for the regulator to address what they said were serious problems caused by BT owning Openreach, such as poor customer service and a conflict of interest, in a letter to the Financial Times on Monday.
BT's Patterson said on Tuesday that the company had already helped Britain to become the largest digital economy in the G20, and he pledged to go further.
"We want to forge an ultrafast future for Britain and stand ready to help government deliver the broadband speeds necessary for every property to enjoy modern day internet services, such as high definition TV streaming and cloud computing," he said.
"To achieve this, we need a collaborative effort across industry and government."
Patterson said BT would go beyond the government's target for fiber broadband to reach 95 percent of premises by 2017, and would set new minimum speed standards, in part by using new technology and satellite broadband for hard-to-reach areas.
It would also improve customer service standards at Openreach, he said.
The government had set a target for universal access to broadband speeds of 2 Mbps by 2016, although it has estimated that 90 percent of properties will have access to speeds of more than 24 Mbps by early 2016.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Kate Holton)