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BT Based RCBF Funded UK Rural Broadband Schemes Still Going Ahead

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 (9:09 am) - Score 639

The Government’s £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), which has been stalled for months because BT and local councils have controversially refused to share vital service speed and coverage (SCT) data with bidding altnet ISPs, is still alive in Northumberland (England). Naturally BT is running the project.

The RCBF fund was originally established as a semi-separate vehicle from the national Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, which could work alongside altnets and smaller community projects to help plug some of the superfast broadband gaps in remote rural areas (i.e. the final 5-10% of the country).

EU State Aid Rules prevent RCBF funding from being used to overlap an existing superfast broadband network, such as the one that BT is building through the BDUK process. But in order to avoid this altnets (smaller ISPs) need to know where BT’s network expects to go, except the incumbent regards this information as “commercially sensitive” (here) and the Government has said they probably won’t be able to publish it until after the BDUK scheme has ended.. in 2017.

In fairness the BDUK roll-out is dynamic, with events and complications on the ground frequently causing changes in strategy (sometimes this means more coverage than expected and other times less). As a result it’s always going to be difficult for BT to know what coverage it can achieve until the very end and as a commercial company they will want to protect that investment. Never the less a competent authority could easily overcome an issue like this but the desire to do so, perhaps borne out by a fear of further delays, does not appear to exist.

The latest twist, albeit an entirely predictable one, is that some RCBF projects are now going ahead and do look set to secure their grants. Good news, although naturally these are the projects that BT are taking part in because, of course, BT are the only ones with access to the necessary data to make it viable. We expect a few broken brick walls as BT’s harshest critics promptly begin bashing away with their heads.

The first is BT’s £1 million project to help around 1,500 local homes in the Northumberland town of Rothbury, which was earlier this year awarded £460,000 from the RCBF to help the operator roll-out its superfast broadband (FTTC/P) network to cover 98% of local homes and businesses by the end of 2014 (here).

The Rothbury Community Broadband Project, which claims to be “the first in the country to benefit from Defra’s Rural Community Broadband Fund” (ISPr ED: *must resist sarcasm*), will officially be launched by Owen Paterson MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, on Monday 9th December 2013. Expect a lot of positive PR spin to follow.

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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.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Surely it must go against open EU procurement rules for BT to be awarded such contracts when they (and/or the councils) refuse to provide the necessary data for other bidders?

    • Avatar Sledgehammer

      I agree with your view. I also think BT are very worried about losing customers to small altnets who provide fibre solutions. It make BT’s copper lines redundant and BT are left with copper lying in the ground not earning any income.

  2. Avatar telecom engineer

    Got to be a better way than this. BT cant say for sure where the network will extend to until the final cab is installed and putting a block on certain areas will stop them driving efficiencies to expand further on bduk areas…
    On the other hand perhaps some acceptance that there will be overlap and competition on networks is the only sensible way forward?

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