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Gov to Withhold UK BDUK Broadband Funds if Councils Fail to Publish Data

Monday, August 5th, 2013 (8:16 am) - Score 1,147

The UK government’s culture secretary, Maria Miller, could withhold an extra £250m of rural superfast broadband (25Mbps+) funding from local authorities unless they do as she requested and publish vital BT coverage information. The data is needed to help smaller ISPs (altnets) build their networks and access £20m of RCBF funding.

One of the key problems right now is that smaller ISPs and community schemes are currently stuck in limbo as they wait to secure grants from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), which was separately setup to help make superfast broadband available in the last 5-10% of rural areas around the United Kingdom.

But state aid rules prevent publicly-funded projects from overbuilding other superfast networks, which causes problems for smaller ISPs because local coverage data for the dominant £1.2bn Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and BT rollout has not been published (i.e. smaller ISPs have no idea whether the areas they were targeting would also be covered by BDUK). BDUK aims to help extend superfast broadband coverage to 88% of the country by the end of 2015 and to hit 95% by 2017 (here).

Local authorities typically control this information and some have been reluctant to publish all of their data due to fears of a public backlash by those in areas that would not benefit (i.e. the final 5-10%). In addition, BTOpenreach usually takes several months, after a BDUK contract has been signed, to complete a detailed survey before finalising their coverage and rollout strategy.

Never the less the RCBF will not release funding unless they know the money will be spent in areas where overbuilding is not going to occur. So last month Miller sent a letter to local councils that politely encouraged them to reveal which areas would receive a superfast broadband upgrade from BT as part of the BDUK scheme (here).

Maria Miller said (July 2013 Letter to Councils):

This information will help other broadband providers and community groups determine whether it is worth their while to develop local broadband projects to fill in gaps in coverage. It will also help clarify the position of those community broadband projects whose schemes are already planned in some detail. I am keen to see this information made available.”

Since then we’ve not heard any reports of this happening, which might just be down to the generally slow pace of decision making by local councils. Now a new report in the Telegraph claims that Miller could potentially withhold the release of an extra £250m from local authorities that fail to publish the relevant coverage data.

A DCMS Source told the Telegraph:

There is a £250 million investment to be made and it is only logical that it will be much more difficult for us, and the market, to factor in those local authorities that refuse to be transparent about their plans.

In other words the £250m from BDUK would only be distributed to councils that agreed to publish all of the relevant information and to make clear any data/coverage areas that are potentially subject to change; BT’s rollout plan can vary depending on their survey outcome and any unexpected problems or improvements discovered on the ground during deployment.

Many local authorities could benefit from a slice of that £250m and hopefully this proves attractive enough for them to publish the information. In reality it probably won’t solve all of the problems as a significant chunk of the information could still be marked as subject to change, which adds ambiguity and leaves RCBF with another headache. Time will tell.

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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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11 Responses
  1. Avatar TheFacts

    Where does ‘transparent’ turn into ‘to publish all of the information.’?

  2. Avatar Slow Somerset

    Not could but should withhold funds and of course it should be transparent when public money is being used.

  3. Avatar Darren

    BT have told local authorities it cannot be disclosed under a NDA and they could be sued for releasing the information which in itself i wrong with Tax payers money. I personally think it should be treated as a bail out like the banks and the public should have shares in BT in return. That way, the country could recoup the funds once the networks move into profit.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Find out about BDUK claw back.

    • The NDA would appear to be somewhat untenable after BT’s recent public statements to government committees and the culture secretary.

    • Avatar DTMark

      There’s something bizarre at the heart of this.

      Local body has objective of 90% superfast and 2Meg for everyone else.

      Local body presents this to BT for tender.

      At which point, the budget is already known. BT would then have had to analyse this street by street to check viability within budget. All of that work must already have been done for BT to have accepted that contract to know it is deliverable before the thing could proceed any further.

      So how could it be “fluid” or change later on? Maybe some ducting is blocked somewhere and BT then offer the local body the option to either have that done, might take a little longer but the budget is already fixed (that risk was with BT) or do some other cabinet somewhere else. At the local body’s option, not BT’s.

      Unless, actually, what the local bodies have contracted is not the above targets, but a “best effort by BT” spending taxpayer’s money with no specified outcomes or measurements.

    • Avatar PhilT

      BT said the planned coverage data is the local authority’s to do with what it pleases in Parliament, didn’t they ? Some have maps published already, for many it’s too early.

  4. Avatar dragoneast

    More fees to the lawyers out of the grant pots! Ain’t life grand.

  5. Avatar DTMark

    So – local bodies send a tender a range of suppliers to BT, so as to get the best value for taxpayer’s money to see what BT is prepared to do.

    I’d thought that all the tenders and final proposals had to be signed off by BDUK. Who set the 90%/2Meg objectives in the first place.

    Since it was not a national level procurement this means that those at BDUK would have had to pore over all the contracts – including any mention of an NDA – to make sure it was fit for purpose. That among other things, the proposal would deliver 2Meg for all. This is one of the reasons for the justification of BDUK’s existence.

    So we now have central government – to whom BDUK report – castigating local bodies for contracts formed which were overseen and approved by BDUK. Is this for real 😉

  6. Avatar ant

    This seems like a good decision to protect the tax payer

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