The chairman of BT’s network arm Openreach has emerged as the frontrunner in the race to oversee Ofcom, in a process being led by Sue Gray even as she investigates parties in Downing Street.
Mike McTighe has applied to head up the board at the media and telecoms regulator after previous attempts by Boris Johnson to install Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail, triggered a political storm.
The Prime Minister attempted to install Mr Dacre at the head of the board of one of Britain’s most influential regulators last year.
However, an independent panel led by a senior civil servant found that he was “not appointable”. The Government then relaunched the search almost two years after it was announced that the previous permanent chairman of Ofcom would step down. But Mr Dacre withdrew from the race in November.
Ms Gray, the senior civil servant now leading the investigation into lockdown parties in Downing Street, is chairman of the new independent appointment panel.
Mr McTighe, 68, would be a popular choice among telecoms executives and their regulators, having been at the centre of a radical change in the UK telecoms industry over the last five years.
He was appointed the first independent chairman of Openreach in 2016 after a bitter row in which rivals accused BT of under-investing in and over-earning from its monopoly on Britain’s broadband infrastructure.
As a result Ofcom imposed a “legal separation” between BT and Openreach, which gave the network arm more autonomy to treat all broadband retailers equally.
Mr McTighe, who previously spent eight years on the board of Ofcom and has chaired boards in the energy and financial services sectors, has been credited with repairing relations between Openreach and its non-BT customers, including Sky and Vodafone, by improving installations and repairs.
One of his first acts as chairman was to publicly criticise BT management for underinvesting in broadband upgrades. Openreach now plans to connect 25m homes to a faster and more reliable fibre-optic network by the end of 2026.
Mr McTighe’s candidacy may face some opposition from rival network builders and retail providers such as TalkTalk, which has been in dispute with Openreach over unpaid fees.
He would face a six-month period of purdah to address any potential conflicts of interest, according to sources close to the appointment process.
Openreach declined to comment.