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Shropshire UK Moot New Broadband Tender for July or September

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016 (9:34 am) - Score 361

The Connecting Shropshire project in England, which is helping BT to deploy “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) services to around 95% of local premises by 2018 (around 90% should get 24Mbps+ speeds), could be ready to put out another contract tender to further extend coverage in July or September 2016.

Shropshire already has two contracts signed with BT, with the first intended to expand “fibre broadband” to over 62,000 extra premises by the end of 2016 (the original completion target for Phase 1 was spring 2016) and that should produce coverage of around 93% (only 87% will get “superfast” 24Mbps+ speeds). So far some 51,596 (165,000 if you include BT’s separate commercial roll-out) of the planned 62,000 have been completed.

After that a £5.6m Phase 2 extension contract was agreed with BT last June 2015 (£4.7 million coming from Broadband Delivery UK and £900,000 from BT), but this will only add another 4,000 homes and businesses to the coverage total and push “fibre broadband” from 93% to around 95% (coverage of 24Mbps+ speeds might just about hit 90% with this). Note that all of this excludes any work conducted under the separate Superfast Telford project.

However the Connecting Shropshire team have also made it clear that additional funding from BDUK and the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership may be available for a future Phase 3 contract, but this has been held up by the on-going Government delay over securing EU State Aid clearance (here and here).

The good news is that we’re expecting an agreement on the future use of state aid to be reached by around May/June 2016 and Patrick Cosgrove, a local broadband campaigner, has managed to get a useful update from one of the alternative network providers that may be bidding on the Phase 3 contract (the comment is anonymous as the ISP doesn’t wish to get in hot water with the council).

A Local Altnet ISP said:

“Assuming this [the EU regs] is unblocked at the end of June say, we would expect Shropshire to issue its Invitation to Tender (ITT) in July or September. The ITT would normally run for about 10 weeks taking us to Oct/Nov. At that point the county councils will usually need about 4-6 weeks to assess and score the responses, gain BDUK approval for their decision and then award the contract.

So assuming we did/could bid, and if we did, we won some or all of the contract, we would then need a further 10-12 weeks to prepare to deliver to the contract. Therefore, if all went well from our point of view we would expect to be digging in at least one of the areas from about Feb/Mar 2017.”

It’s worth pointing out that the Government’s BDUK team have been actively pushing local authorities to engage more with alternative network providers for future contracts, although equally this does not rule out the possibility that BT may bid on and win some of the future tenders for different parts of the UK.

Unfortunately we won’t know more about the approach until a final agreement has been reached on the state aid rules and in any case the contract isn’t likely to be huge because the local authority is currently fighting with a £77m deficit in its budget, which leaves them with very little room to manoeuvre.

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