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Worcestershire Broadband Rollout Criticised Again for Wasting Money

Monday, Aug 17th, 2015 (8:39 am) - Score 782

The Superfast Worcestershire (England) project, which is rolling out “high-speed fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) to 95% of the county by summer 2018 (94% will get “superfast” 24Mbps+ speeds), has been criticised again for low-uptake and giving up to £8.5m of public funding to prop up BT’s commercial business.

Only last week the project boasted about how 35,000 extra homes and businesses in the county had already benefitted from the Broadband Delivery UK and BT based roll-out programme (here), which once complete should have helped to put the service within reach of around 63,000 additional premises.

On top of that the scheme reported a strong level of uptake at 17% and confirmed that this, when combined with savings of £0.9m, would soon return around £3m from BT for reinvestment into further coverage improvements. But the leader of the county’s opposition Labour group, Peter McDonald, isn’t pleased.

Councillor Peter McDonald said (here):

We have destroyed nearly every service the county council has ever been responsible for and here we are giving one of the riches companies in Europe £8 million so they can advance their business. And this is all for a measly 17 per cent take-up.

After this investment we can see the outcome and the outcome is diabolical. We opposed it in the first place and the outcome has proved why.”

The remarks echo a similar statement made by another opposition councillor at the end of last year (here), which likewise appeared to focus upon criticising the core issue of using public money to improve broadband coverage and then putting that money into BT’s pocket. As usual no alternative ideas are offered, so we assume their answer would be to stop all such public investment.

As before the remarks appear to overlook how broadband is often considered to be one of the better uses of public money, at least in terms of its perceived benefit to the local and national economy (plus any social benefits), although there may well be some sympathy for the BT sniping; even if the alternative operators weren’t quite there in 2013 when the contract was first signed.

It’s also unclear by what gauge 17% uptake is to be considered “measly“, particularly since the Worcestershire deployment began in 2014 (somewhat later than most) and yet is now demonstrating a much stronger uptake curve than many other BDUK schemes; despite not being demand-led.

Lest we not forget that the council’s £8.5m wasn’t the only contribution to the local phase one contract, with BT adding up to £8.9m and BDUK putting in £3.5m. On the other hand it’s easy to understand such concerns in the current climate of austerity, although sometimes the best way to make money for public services is by investing in new infrastructure.

So far the public at large appear to be roughly supportive of the Broadband Delivery UK programme, although perhaps in the grander scheme of things it’s simply not as emotive of a subject as funding for schools, hospitals, military or police etc. Mind you that might change if the idea for a tax on broadband ISPs, which would ultimately hit consumers, turns into a serious proposal.

Otherwise it’s a shame that such politicians don’t put their energy into examining the issues that do exist within the Broadband Delivery UK project, such as its failure to embrace smaller alternative ISPs at an earlier stage, the lack of better cost transparency, the lack of clarity over future coverage plans, the issue of how some areas earmarked for BT’s commercial upgrades are being handed back to BDUK and the idea of using a subsidy for Satellite to cater for some of the final 5%.

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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