The Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office has put out a new tender that is seeking “as many suppliers as possible” to help it spend the extra £250m, which will be used to extend fixed line superfast broadband coverage from around 88% of the population by the end of 2015 to 95% by 2017 (or 99% by 2018 if you include wireless).
The extra £250m was first announced at the end of June 2013 (here) and is expected to be used alongside an enhanced Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework that could potentially adopt a more commercial focus and might even allow smaller (altnet) ISPs to bid for related contracts at a local level (i.e. as opposed to the current situation where BT is the only choice).
But according to the tender, which was issued on 28th September 2013, three delivery options are now under consideration for the expanded coverage commitment and to discuss this BDUK has, at very short notice, invited all potential suppliers to an industry information day event that will take place on 7th October 2013 in London.
The 3 Potential BDUK Delivery Options (£250m Commitment)
1. Establish alternative commercial arrangements where it can be demonstrated that there is supplier interest and capacity to compete for and undertake the provision of broadband infrastructure. These might be organised at a local body level, aggregated and coordinated at a national or sub-national level or alternatively organised by another means.
2. Extend existing contractual arrangements, potentially including extending the use of the Broadband Delivery Framework.
3. A combination of the above.
Apparently ISPs or related organisations that wish to attend the industry day must register their attendance in advance and any expressions of interest will be “dealt with on a first come, first served basis” (altnets should email firstname.lastname@example.org). Only two representatives per organisation are allowed (preferably those with commercial and/or technical expertise) and supplier views must all be submitted by the end of October 2013 at the latest.
Statement – Object of the Contract (In-Fill Consultation)
“BDUK is keen to understand the potential to expand the network of suppliers involved in the delivery of superfast broadband and as such is seeking supplier views on the delivery approaches to extend superfast broadband coverage beyond the levels currently provided for by local bodies’ existing supplier contracts.
We are particularly keen to see suggestions for how to deliver superfast broadband to some of the UK’s hardest to reach areas, including those options which might give communities an opportunity to shape local solutions. Any future procurement activities may be led by BDUK or by Local Authorities or Devolved Administrations.
BDUK is seeking expressions of interest from potential prime contractors, consortia, sub-contractors or other interested parties in the broadband delivery supply chain who may be interested in responding to any subsequent procurement activity.”
The Government are currently under a lot of pressure, thanks to some recent and quite controversial reports from the National Audit Office (here) and Public Accounts Committee (here), to show that BDUK isn’t a game that only BT can play.
Separately it’s also trying to unlock funding for altnet schemes through the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), which has been stalled due to a lack of clarity from BT and local authorities about their expected coverage under BDUK (here). Sadly altnet projects can’t get their funding approved if BT/LA’s don’t say in DETAIL where their BDUK networks will go, which in fairness isn’t always easy to answer before BTOpenreach has had a chance to complete its survey work.
The Government hopes that its expanded coverage commitment could help an extra 1.4 million more premises gain access to a fixed line superfast broadband service. Now if only the process was more flexible than it currently is. Credits to Ian Grant (Br0kenTeleph0n3) for picking up on the tender’s publication.
UPDATE 4th October 2013
ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) recently put out a comment that sums up quite nicely the current mapping issue (i.e. lack of coverage/speed data from BDUK projects).
Janice Banks, ACRE Chief Executive, said:
“Many local councils have published maps for the rural broadband programme, which is meant to extend superfast coverage to 90% of the premises in the UK. But despite an earlier pledge from the Secretary of State Maria Miller, the information provided by some councils is so limited and inconsistent it is impossible for people to tell whether their homes and businesses are included or not.
This confusion ties the hands of innovative communities who want to come up with their own broadband solutions. No one will invest in a plan that could be overtaken by the BT rollout. Defra’s rural proofing guidelines says this Government wants to be sure rural areas get a fair deal from all Government policy. We fear that, once again, rural communities are getting a raw deal.
We echo the call from the [PAC] to make sure that the rollout plans are published in a consistent and meaningful way so that other solutions can be found to reach the remaining 10% of the population that will still be without superfast broadband. This information needs to be available straight away, irrespective of the local authority area, so that communities and businesses can benefit from the broadband that their urban counterparts take for granted.”
ACRE also notes the huge different between Local Broadband Plans with some local authorities, like the Devon & Somerset scheme (here), posting fairly useless / vague maps and others, such as the Dorset project, producing comparatively detailed information (here).