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UK Government Confirms 3 Month Delay for Local Broadband Projects

Friday, Aug 3rd, 2012 (1:23 pm) - Score 1,074

The UK government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has confirmed that its national roll-out of superfast broadband (25Mbps+) services has been hit by “at least” a 3 month delay after the European Commission (EC) expressed competition concerns with the process.

The situation, which first came to light in June 2012 after it emerged that the EC had expressed concern over the lack of competition in the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework and related Local Broadband Plan (LBP) tendering process (here), means that no public funding can be released (i.e. State Aid) for affected projects.

A lack of open access to Dark Fibre lines, coupled to the limited choice of operators (BT and an unproven network from Fujitsu) involved in the tendering process (i.e. only BT seems to be winning the contracts and in some cases Fujitsu have simply withdrawn), are believed to be two of Europe’s biggest concerns.

A DCMS Spokesman told the FT:

It is therefore unlikely that procurements will be completed by December [2012]. We are working on completing the procurements as rapidly as possible on the basis that the process started three months later than originally planned.”

In fairness this isn’t, as some believe, entirely the EC’s fault as they are largely following European law. Similarly DCMS originally expected every local authority in the country to have their draft LBP’s approved before the end of the April 2012 deadline, yet in May 2012 it was revealed that a quarter had already failed to meet this target (here). A delay was perhaps inevitable.

So where does this leave the UK government’s aim for 90% of people in each UK local authority area to be within reach of a superfast broadband (24Mbps+) service by the middle of 2015? At the end of last week the EC said that it had given the matter a “high priority” but was still awaiting “all the requested information from the UK authorities” (here).

The latest DCMS update suggests that all but one LBP (i.e. Sandwell, including Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Walsall) has now been approved by the UK government, although 20 out of the 48 have yet to fully enter the procurement stage. On top of this the recent and quite scathing House of Lords report (here) may or may not bring about additional changes in the process that could add further delay.

Much now depends upon the EC’s final determination. Any significant changes could require further work by Ofcom, force some plans to be re-designed and might affect existing contract awards. Suffice to say that the 2015 target is beginning to look even more uncertain than it was before. As a result BDUK has set a new target of March 2013 for local authorities to complete the tendering process and select BT an operator to start work.

BDUK Local Broadband Plan Progress (July 24th 2012)

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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