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UK Culture Secretary to Lobby EU Over Delayed Broadband Funding Approval

Thursday, November 8th, 2012 (8:19 am) - Score 455
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The UK government’s Culture Secretary, Maria Miller MP, will today fly out to Brussels with the hope of persuading the European Commission (EC) to grant final approval for the release of state aid funding, which would allow local authorities to proceed with their national roll-out of superfast broadband services.

It’s believed that around half of the 47 Local Broadband Plans (LBP), which are intended to help 90% of UK people gain access to a superfast broadband (25Mbps+) service by March 2015, have been stuck in limbo for several months after the EC expressed competition concerns. As a result some £530m in public money cannot be released to start the physical deployment phase.

A Spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said (FT):

Maria Miller is frustrated that EU red tape is holding up the delivery of broadband in the UK, infrastructure that is essential to the country’s economic growth.

She will be lobbying the commission face to face, as well as urging our elected representatives in Brussels to support what is best for UK businesses and the UK’s economy.”

In particular the EC are understood to be concerned about the limited choice of operators in the related Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework, which only allows for the selection of either BT or Fujitsu (i.e. smaller ISPs are perhaps unfairly excluded). But Fujitsu, which was recently re-classified as “high risk” for government contracts, has so far withdrawn from most of the bidding (often long before the contracts were due to be awarded).

Fujitsu originally planned to build an ultrafast 1Gbps capable fibre optic (FTTH) broadband network that could have reached 5 Million UK premises in rural areas by 2016, although not unlike BT it would have required almost all of BDUK’s budget and needed at least 1 million premises to break even (easier said than done when you’re talking about rural areas and an unproven project). As a result BT has been left to pick up the contracts and most now expect it to win the lion’s share of public funding.

The situation appeared to be moving forward in October when the EC’s competition boss, Joaquín Almunia, requested several unspecified and “relatively minor changes” to BDUK’s design. Unfortunately this first needed to be approved by the other commissioners, which DCMS expected to happen by “early November 2012“.

A Spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said (October 2012):

It is our understanding that the commission is on track to issue its final decision in late October or early November 2012, which will allow [affected BDUK] projects to get under way.”

The situation, combined with other problems, has already had a significant impact on the country’s national broadband strategy. The local procurement processes were originally supposed to be completed by the end of 2012 but this was recently put back to July 2013 (6 month delay).

In fairness it would be wrong to blame this delay upon Europe. Indeed the UK government took several months to supply the EC with related documentation, which was require before the assessment could be completed, and BDUK’s design has arguably been flawed right from the start.

ISPreview.co.uk has contacted the EC several times over the matter but so far nobody has been willing to give us an update or to explain what the “minor changes” actually are. Meanwhile most ordinary people don’t much care about how the service arrives at their doorstep; they just want it to arrive in the first place.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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8 Responses
  1. Avatar dragoneast

    Lovely demonstration of the UK government showing us all how broadband improves business efficiency by supporting remote working, reducing the need to travel and generally speeding everything up and doing a better job. Except when a politician is involved, of course.

  2. Avatar Joaquín Almunia

    Since when has Brussels been in Germany?

    • Avatar Bob

      ah the EU master plan has been accidently revealed. Germany is to become an EU state under the control of Brussels

    • Ack.. since I typed the wrong country name 🙂 . Corrected.

    • You got it the wrong way round Bob. It is the German master plan to (re)gain control of Brussels not the other way round! 🙂

    • Avatar Eddie Duffy

      Joaquin, Just have to delay the BT gift as long as possible. Let’s face it no competition has been allowed to get involved, the incumbant lives on despite their lack of vision, doubling the BDUK charges and not meeting any targets….why can’t others get involved! Stop handing money to BT there are alternative solutions!…YOU DON’T HAVE TO APPROVE THIS! GO BACK TO THE MARKET AND ASK FOR ALTERNATIVES!
      You might be surprised!

  3. Avatar nicknick

    This is just ‘part of the game’ as far as UK Govt are concerned. The whole BDUK process was just a sham to justify giving all the money to BT (and was structured as such from the beginning).

    They have to ‘pretend’ they are concerned about the delay, but they knew that Brussels would see though the sham and it would take longer to get approval at the beginning.

    I expect that as local council funding is involved in each project the EU is arguing that they cannot have one blanket ‘approval’ for the projects (maybe for the BDUK piece, but not for the council piece)

  4. Avatar Ignitionnet

    I imagine the EU along with anyone else who might be watching and isn’t a part of a procurement is feeling rather frustrated at the obfuscation from Openreach as far as actual costings go.

    I rather hope once their local councils have put in the BDUK procurements people launch FOI requests.

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