BDUK three months delayed: what happened

rural broadband

Thought you'd be able to nab superfast broadband soon? Think again.

The Government's ambition to have "the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015" is looking increasingly overambitious.

Roll out of services is at least three months behind schedule, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), confirmed to the Financial Times this week.

Broadband Delivery UK's (BDUK) attempt to divide £530 million of public money among private telecoms companies has been beset by numerous problems, DCMS said.

The net result for consumers is a much longer wait for fast broadband, if it comes at all.

What went wrong

Critics have argued that BDUK should have seen it coming.

Big bidders only

In the first instance BDUK approved only two suppliers - BT and Fujitsu - to bid for access to the Government cash, seemingly oblivious to the potential stink this could create among small scale, community projects.

Worse, the whiff travelled further, drifting across the English Channel where the highly tuned nostrils of the European Commission picked up on the stench of anti-competitive practice.

The Commission is concerned that only two companies are able to win contracts from local councils to carry out the work.

Local councils that want to access taxpayer's money to help deliver BDUK's vision for widespread superfast broadband coverage must now wait, putting the tendering process on hold, while lengthy negotiations with the Commission are carried out.

A further seven companies were involved in the earlier stages of the bidding process. However, the fact that network providers have to submit a bid to each council individually forced many to pull out over the complexity and costs.

This all matters because it makes it all the more likely that the Government, despite its protestations, will miss its own target of bringing superfast broadband to 90% of the UK's population by 2015.

Or should that be 'bidder'?

Another potential problem is that as the project falls further behind schedule BDUK is more likely to employ one company, BT Openreach, to do all the work in order to meet the deadlines imposed on the project.

The result is a superfast broadband marketplace that looks remarkably similar to the pre-24Mb market, with little price competition as all broadband suppliers in certain areas are forced to piggyback on BT Openreach lines.

In the Superfast Broadband Future report published 18 months ago DCMS said that they, "start from a strong position. UK consumers enjoy the benefits of one of the most competitive communications markets in Europe."

Let's hope we don't end up with one of the least competitive.

Speed obsession

This is the second time in a month that the Coalition's plans to deliver superfast broadband have taken a battering.

Last month, the House of Lords Communications Committee warned that DCMS was becoming obsessed with the speeds - a reference to its target of a broadband connection of least 2Mb for every household, rather than reach of broadband services.

"The delivery of certain speeds should not be the guiding principle; what is important is the long term assurance that as new internet applications emerge, everyone will be able to benefit, from inhabitants of inner cities to the remotest areas of the UK," said peers in a woolly statement.

The Lords wanted to see a plan which would deliver open access hubs offering fibre optic connections to businesses and homes who wanted access.

"What we need is a system that enables people to get what they want and pay accordingly," said committee chair, Lord Inglewood.

Not keen on chucking Plan A out the window, the Coalition, DCMS and BDUK are pushing to get procurement completed during early 2013 and hoping that it will be plainer sailing from there on.

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