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UPDATE3 Broadband Delivery UK Detail Plan for Spending Extra £250m

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 (11:48 am) - Score 1,262

The Government has today revealed more details for how it intends to spend the next £250 million that was last year set aside to help extend fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) ISP network coverage out to 95% of the United Kingdom by 2017. So what, if anything, is new.

The Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) originally began life by earmarking £830m to support the national Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, although initially only £530 million of this was allocated to help make superfast broadband connectivity available to 90% of “people in each local authority area” by 2015.

At present the Government are still hopeful of achieving the 90% target by the end of 2015, although it could slip a little into early 2016 but that’s not a bad result for such a complex project (here). Ed Vaizey, Communications Minister, said last year, “We hope to get to 90% by early 2016 but given half the projects underway are already ahead of schedule, I think we might get to our target of 2015“.

So the claims that BDUK has been delayed by two years have often been misinterpreted (The Top 4 BDUK Myths), yet the programme has continued to face plenty of criticism (example) and some of the key complaints with its approach can be summarised as follows.

A Short Summary of the Top BDUK Gripes

1. All of the Local Broadband Plan (LBP) contracts have gone to BT, which in the majority of cases has been the only viable bidder. Rivals, such as Fujitsu UK and GEO (here and here), struggled to make the economics work (e.g. unable to serve business customers by using BT’s cable ducts via the PIA product) and ultimately dropped out.

2. BT and Local Authorities have often been hesitant to release detailed postcode / street-level broadband speed and coverage template data for BDUK areas (here), which has meant that smaller ISP schemes applying for funding through the alternative £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) have been unable to identify whether their area(s) would be overbuilt by BT/BDUK (i.e. no grants could be approved due to EU state aid rules prohibiting overbuilding).

But this hasn’t stopped BT muscling in on other areas where rival fibre optic networks were already being deployed or planned to be deployed (example and example).

3. The BDUK framework required bidders to demonstrate a £20m minimum turnover for the last two financial years, which effectively ruled smaller ISPs out from bidding unless they somehow managed to form a large and overly complex consortium (lots of small ISPs with different approaches is not a very workable solution).

4. Transparency over the full / real costs for BT’s deployment under BDUK has often been sought but remains hard to come by.

5. Fixed Wireless Access providers have effectively been ruled out or ignored in favour of a focus on fixed line solutions, which is despite some recent adjustments that make limited allowances for wireless providers (note: many BDUK contracts were agreed before this happened).

On the other hand many councils’ have chosen to go with BT because they already have infrastructure in the ground and their scale is seen as a safe bet for local authorities, which are always concerned about public opinion. But a risk averse attitude could also blind councils to the alternatives, which in some cases might be able to deliver more for less.

Similarly BT contests that it’s not always possible to know the final coverage until the service has actually been deployed, which is because the roll-out can change as problems on the ground are encountered (some areas may see more coverage than planned, while others might get less).

Meanwhile BDUK has recently shown signs of moving to encourage the release of more coverage data (here) and some Local Authorities have followed suit, although many have yet to budge (here).

The Next £250m

Since then another £250 million has been extracted from the original budget of £830m (here), which is intended to be spent between 2015 – 2017 and aims to ensure that fixed line superfast broadband reaches 95% of the population by 2017 (plus 99% by 2018 when you include Mobile Broadband and other wireless solutions).

In an attempt to address some of the criticism BDUK has also launched a new £10m Competitive Fund, which aims to “test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas“ and this appears to be more friendly towards fixed wireless, satellite and mobile broadband providers (here).

At the same time the programme has suggested that its next allocation of £250m would adopt a different approach from the first £530m (here), which is believed to be based around a more commercial focus and one that might make the extra money more accessible to BT’s rivals. But today’s announcement doesn’t clarify what, if anything, has actually changed.

Maria Miller, Culture Secretary, said:

Superfast Broadband will benefit everyone – whether they need it for work, to do homework or simply to download music or films. Thousands of homes and businesses now have access and it is helping people with their everyday tasks. We want to make sure that Britain is one of the best countries in the world for broadband, and the extra £250m we are investing will help ensure communities around the UK are not left behind in the digital slow lane.”

Cllr Flick Rea, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, added:

Councils are committed to improving internet services for residents and business to help drive forward growth in their areas and this announcement of further funding is a positive step to build on the good work that has already been done locally to build better connected communities. We look forward to working with the Government on the roll-out of the schemes in the areas that are receiving funding.”

The announcement also reveals that “indicative funding” for each nation has been split from the £250m as follows – England £184.34m, Wales £12.11m, Scotland £20.99m and Northern Ireland, where superfast broadband is already well covered, will receive £7.24m to help it fill in the final gaps. NOTE: £25m has been put aside for contingency spending.

But for now it looks as if many Local Authorities will continue to proceed on the assumption that they’ll use any additional BDUK investment to extend their existing agreements with BT.

UPDATE 1:14pm

In related news the Suffolk County Council, which is already conducting a tender for the new 95% target (here), has confirmed that an extra £4.82 million from the £250m “Superfast Extension Programme” has been allocated to help support the new goal.

We expect the same to happen across the country. So expect a lot of news like this from local authorities over the coming days, weeks and months.

UPDATE 2:31pm

Curiously the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has not made the full break-down of funding allocations for England available directly to the public, although the team over at Computer Weekly have managed to get it. How the money is split in other nations is a matter for their own respective local governments.

Local Authority Areas (£m funding split from £250m total)
Berkshire Councils £3.56
Black Country £4.99
Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire £6.63
Cambridgeshire, Peterborough £0.91
Central Beds, Bedford Borough, Milton Keynes, Luton £3.18
Cheshire East, Cheshire West & Chester, Warrington, Halton £2.12
Cornwall £2.96
Cumbria £2.86
Derbyshire, Derby £2.19
Devon, Somerset, Plymouth, Torbay, North Somerset, Bath & NE Somerset £22.75
Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole £0.77
Durham, Gateshead, Tees Valley and Sunderland £3.90
East Riding of Yorkshire £5.00
East Sussex, Brighton and Hove £0.65
Essex, Southend-On-Sea, Thurrock £10.72
Greater Manchester excl Manchester & Salford £0.45
Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton £8.74
Hereford and Gloucestershire £10.98
Kent and Medway £5.60
Knowsley, Liverpool, St. Helens, Sefton, Wirral £0.70
Lancashire, Blackpool, Blackburn with Darwen £3.84
Leicestershire, Leicester £4.04
Lincolnshire £2.35
Newcastle upon Tyne £0.43
Norfolk £5.59
North Lincolnshire, North East Lincolnshire £1.18
North Tyneside, South Tyneside £2.18
North Yorkshire, York £4.60
Northamptonshire £3.64
Northumberland £0.65
Nottinghamshire, City of Nottingham £2.63
Oxfordshire £2.15
Rutland £0.18
Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin £12.80
South Yorkshire £10.40
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent £1.68
Suffolk £4.82
Warwickshire and Solihull, Coventry £3.68
West Sussex £0.86
West Yorkshire, Kirklees £6.62
Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire, Swindon £4.97
Worcestershire £2.39

UPDATE 26th Feb 2014:

The Government has also released one of their promotional investment videos for the re-announced funding.

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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
6 Responses
  1. Avatar Matthew Williams

    Was to be expected least we know that 95% of the population will be covered. The remaining 5% which is the problem.

  2. Avatar Patrick@cosgr.plus.com

    Does this mean that BT has used the position of strength handed to it by BDUK last year to beat central government into submission? Many alternative methods of delivering broadband are proven. They do not need to be trialled, but by relegating them to the smaller £10m Broadband innovation Fund government is pretending that fixed fibre is the only sensible way forward at the moment. In this way it is avoiding a confrontation with BT which has used its position to exclude almost all competition. Ed Vaizey is on record as saying that the £250 m ‘can’ be used with other providers which is different to ‘will be used’. It is most likely that he will repeat his boss’s Pontius Pilate act of last year and leave it up to local authorities to stand up to BT or not. Most will probably choose not to. Incompetence, deceit and cowardice all the way through.

    • Avatar James Harrison

      They do not need to be trialled, but by relegating them to the smaller £10m Broadband innovation Fund government is pretending that fixed fibre is the only sensible way forward at the moment. In this way it is avoiding a confrontation with BT which has used its position to exclude almost all competition.

      Indeed – though I think you mean fixed FTTC, not fixed fibre as in FTTP.

      Certainly Oxfordshire CC tendered the original contract and has a speed and coverage template that assumes the existence of the 250m pot and assumes it will go to BT in order to deliver their targets (ie, phases 1-6 are funded, 7-9 aren’t but are specified by BT ‘should further funding become available’ – this is all FOI’d via WhatDoTheyKnow). So yes, BT were probably always going to get the lion’s share of this. The £10m fund is a farce given none of this tech needs trials as you say. The government could have given the £250m over to most-difficult projects but it would probably have shown up how little money that is in the context of actually connecting difficult areas!

  3. Avatar Phil

    Don’t give to BT £250m extra – biggest mistake by the government!

  4. Avatar Sledgehammer

    “We want to make sure that Britain is one of the best countries in the world for broadband, and the extra £250m we are investing will help ensure communities around the UK are not left behind in the digital slow lane.”

    TO late we are already in the slow lane and will only fall further behind. Thanks to BT, BDUK, OFCOM and a very inept government.

  5. Avatar FibreFred

    What does best mean? In what context ?

    Best coverage
    Best average speed
    Best price
    Best choice of providers

    ?

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