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Risk factors

The business of BT is affected by a number of factors, not all of which are wholly within BT’s control. Although many of the factors influencing BT’s performance are macro economic and likely to affect the performance of businesses generally, some aspects of BT’s business make it particularly sensitive to certain areas of business risk. This section highlights some of those specific areas. However, it does not purport to be an extensive analysis of the factors affecting the business and some risks may be unknown to us and other risks, currently believed to be immaterial, could turn out to be material. All of these could materially adversely affect our business, turnover, profits, assets, liquidity and capital resources. They should also be considered in connection with the forward looking statements in this document and the cautionary statement regarding forward-looking statements.

 

If BT’s activities are subject to significant price controls, its market share, competitive position and future profitability may be affected
Most of BT’s fixed network activities in the UK are subject to significant regulatory controls. The controls regulate, among other things, the prices BT may charge for many of its services and the extent to which it has to provide services to its competitors. In recent years, the effect of these controls has been to cause BT to reduce its prices. BT cannot assure its shareholders that the regulatory authorities will not increase the severity of the price controls, nor extend the services to which controls apply (including any new services that BT may offer in the future), nor extend the services which it has to provide its competitors. These controls may adversely affect BT’s market share, the severity of competition and its future profitability. Further details on the regulatory framework in which BT operates can be found in ‘‘Business Review – regulation, competition and prices’’.

 

BT faces strong competition in UK fixed network services
BT continues to have a significant market share in some aspects of UK fixed network services. In particular, in the 2003 financial year we estimate we had a market share of 73% of consumer calls and 45% of business calls in the UK and approximately 81% of exchange lines in the UK were in the BT network as at 31 March 2003. Regulators have promoted competition in this area by allowing BT’s competitors to site equipment in or adjacent to its exchanges (local loop unbundling) and to make it easier for BT’s customers to route some or all of their calls over competitors’ networks (carrier pre-selection) and by the introduction of a wholesale access product. Reduction in BT’s market share in the fixed network may lead to a fall in BT’s turnover and an adverse effect on profitability. Unlike its competitors, BT continues to be obliged by the current regulatory regime to serve customers in the United Kingdom, whether or not such provision of service is economic, and the two competitive measures described above may have the effect of accelerating the diversion of its more profitable existing customers without it being able to reduce its costs commensurately. These changes in the regulatory environment and ensuing increased competition on its fixed network may cause adverse effects on its business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects.


BT’s business is dependent on the ability to exploit technological advances quickly and successfully
BT operates in an industry with a recent history of fast technological changes. It expects that new products and technologies will emerge and that existing products and technologies will develop further. BT needs to continually develop its services and products to exploit those next generation technologies. However, BT cannot predict the actual effect of these technological changes on its business or on its ability to provide competitive services. For example, presently there is evidence of substitution by customers using mobile phones for day-to-day voice calls in place of making such calls over the fixed network. Additionally, some calls are now being routed over the internet in place of the traditional switched network. If these trends accelerate, BT’s fixed network assets may be used uneconomically and its investment in these assets may not be recovered through profits on fixed-network calls and line rentals. Impairment write-downs may be incurred and margins may decline if fixed costs cannot be reduced in line with falling turnover.

BT has targeted significant growth in new business areas, such as broadband technology. In view of the likely level of competition and uncertainties regarding the level of economic activity, there can be no certainty that BT will meet these growth targets, with a consequential impact on future turnover and profitability.

 

BT’s businesses may be adversely affected if their networks or systems experience any significant failures or interruptions
BT’s businesses are dependent on their ability to transfer substantial volumes of data speedily and without interruption. Any significant failure or interruption of such data transfer due to factors outside their control could have a material adverse effect on the businesses and their results from operations. BT has a business continuity strategy designed to deal with such catastrophic events, including major terrorist action, industrial action, extreme virus attack, hurricane or flooding, that may impact the ability to maintain an effective service to customers. Any such strategy can provide only reasonable and not absolute assurance against material loss and there can be no assurance that material adverse events will not occur.

 

Declining investment returns may result in the funding cost of the defined benefit pension scheme becoming a significant burden on the financial resources of BT

The defined benefit pension scheme, the BT Pension Scheme (BTPS), was closed to new members on 31 March 2001 and has been replaced by a defined contribution scheme (BTRP). The latest full triennial actuarial valuation of the BTPS was completed as at 31 December 2002. As a result, the schedule of contributions has been agreed with the scheme trustees under which BT will make normal contributions of 12.2% of pensionable pay and annual deficiency payments of £232 million. This will apply until the next triennial actuarial valuation is completed as at 31 December 2005. The results of future scheme valuations will be impacted by the future investment market performance, interest rates and the general trend towards longer life expectancy, all of which are outside the control of BT. In the event that investment returns decline, the cash funding cost to BT may increase and may have a significant effect on the financial resources of BT.


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