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Someset and Devon UK Councils Angry at BT’s Fibre Broadband Rollout

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 (12:13 pm) - Score 890

Plans to extend the joint £94 million Connecting Devon and Somerset (England) project have been cast into doubt again after several district councils expressed concern at BT’s requirement that they sign “gagging orders” (Non-Disclosure Agreements) and the operators alleged inability to guarantee that residents in their area would receive access to faster broadband speeds.

At present the joint plan aims to make BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services available to more than 90% of local premises by the end of 2016, although the area has also been allocated an additional £22.75m from the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme in order to help achieve the national target for 95% coverage of “superfast broadband“(24Mbps+) by 2017; there’s also a local ambition to reach 100% by 2020.

Crucially the local authorities must match the BDUK investment with money from their own coffers, which has been a struggle and meant that the first proposal under the related Superfast Extension Programme (SEP) would fall several million short (here). Never the less the agreed value is still expected to be enough for the 95% target, assuming everybody can agree to sign the contract with BT.

Unfortunately this may be easier said than done after several local councils expressed concern at the need to coat the project in secrecy by signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement with BT (this is a common if much criticised part of most BDUK projects), which some officials described as forming part of the operators “aggressively commercial” approach towards retaining their “highly profitable” position.

Tim Wood, Chairman of the Task and Finish Forum, said (Western Morning News):

Indeed the lack of information has made it more difficult for rural residents to seek possibly viable alternative solutions to their internet problems.

There was negligible willingness for those who knew more information to reveal it and there was an air of frustration and anger on the part of those who felt their residents were being kept in the dark despite huge quantities of taxpayers’ money being spent on the project.”

The BDUK supported approach is partly commercial, relying on BT to invest some of its own money, and so from a business perspective the telecoms operator has felt a need to protect its investment and any information that it might deem commercially sensitive.

In the past this has created problems with both the transparency of costs and access to detailed coverage data, which have sometimes also made it difficult for alternative network operators to seek funding. State aid rules prevent NGA networks from overlapping too aggressively, but first you have to know where the network will go before you can answer any questions about an overlap (difficult when one side isn’t as forthcoming).

In fairness BT would no doubt point out that deploying FTTC/P is a complicated process and they often can’t say for sure precisely what coverage will be achieved until after the surveys have completed, and even then the coverage plans can change depending upon unforeseen circumstances on the ground. This is especially true when you have a target of 95%, which still leaves 5% stuck in the slow lane.

Regardless of the concerns the CDS project has already secured £19.1 million of their £22.75 million target and the contract is now out to tender, with BT of course being the obvious or rather only choice given that there aren’t any other bidders involved at the same scale.

The newspapers article also makes mention of BT’s £500,000 quote for bringing “fibre broadband” to the village of Upottery, which we covered earlier this year (here).

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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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