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Government Puts UK Superfast Broadband Projects on AMBER RED ALERT

Saturday, May 25th, 2013 (7:59 am) - Score 2,725

The government’s Major Projects Authority (MPA), which was setup in 2010 to help improve the “delivery success rate” of major publicly funded projects through collaboration between various departments (Cabinet Office, HM Treasury etc.), has put the effort to roll-out superfast broadband to 90% of the UK on Amber/Red Alert.

The MPA uses a traffic light style Red-Amber-Green Rating (RAG) system, which is described as a Delivery Confidence Assessment, to gauge the progress of projects and how likely they are to reach their goals. A status of Amber/Red means that “successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible.”

mpa rag ratings

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is the home for most of the government’s broadband / mobile ambitions and each project has been given one of the above classifications.

Firstly the £150m Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), which is helping “at least” 98% of UK people gain access to a mobile broadband connection by the end of 2015 (originally 2017), is placed on a tame Amber Alert. But for all intents and purposes the MIP, which recently awarded a new mobile mast building contract to Arqiva (here), appears to be making reasonable progress.

Sadly the £150m Urban Broadband Fund (UBF), which aims to help expand the coverage of “ultra-fast” broadband (80-100Mbps+) and “high speed” public wifi services into neglected areas, has been placed on Amber/Red. This is hardly surprising given the EU’s apparent rejection of its state aid component for broadband development (here). Interestingly the report appears to confirm that a voucher solution will be pursued, “the Government is working with the EU Commission and suppliers to agree the state aid strategy for infrastructure build and a connection voucher scheme“.

But the primary concern appears to be with the wider £530m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework, which aims to make superfast broadband (25Mbps+) available to 90% of people in the UK by the end of 2015 (it used to be “March 2015“) and is also Amber/Red. But some recent contract awards have suggested that the completion date could slip into 2016.

The BDUK scheme has faced a mountain of administrative and funding delays, such as last year’s 6 month stall over EU state aid approval (here) and on-going local squabbles over BT’s coverage commitments. Out of the 43 projects some 26 have assigned contracts but only a few are actually installing the new infrastructure (e.g. Wales). “As of 25/03/2013 the whole life cost is approximately £1.8 bn. Cost figure is an estimate based on expected public and private sector contributions,” said the MPA.

However the MPA notes that big government projects often operate “with an extremely high degree of risk and complexity, against ambitious timeframes and are frequently delivering initiatives that have no global precedent“. As a result such projects, especially in their earliest stages, are often classified as Amber or Amber/Red.

In fact even Ofcom’s project to release the 800MHz and 2.6GHz radio spectrum for use by new 4G based mobile broadband services, which has already completed, is still marked as Amber. On the other hand such projects are also supposed to be moving more towards Amber and Amber/Green as they get older, remove risks and finalise design.

Major Projects Authority (MPA)
https://www.gov.uk/government/policy-teams/major-projects-authority

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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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