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Devon and Somerset Restart £39.5m Hunt for ISP to Upgrade Broadband

Tuesday, Jul 12th, 2016 (12:01 am) - Score 830

After a long wait the much delayed second phase of the Connecting Devon and Somerset project, which suffered a setback in June 2015 after failing to reach a deal to extend “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) coverage with BT, has finally begun a new £39.5m procurement.

Currently the existing project is already working with BTOpenreach (Phase One Broadband Delivery UK contract) to make “superfast” connectivity available to over 90% of local homes and businesses by the end of 2016. On top of that they’ve also signed a separate £4.6m contract with fixed wireless ISP Airband to cover 5,800 premises across the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks (here).

A Brief History Lesson

However the original £35m plan to extend their Phase One BDUK contract with BT (aka – Phase Two, Superfast Extension Programme), which would have aimed to achieve 95% coverage by 2017/18, collapsed after CDS claimed that the telecoms giant had been unable to commit what was needed or offer “any reassurances that the 95% target could be reached” (here).

At the time BT countered that their offer would have pushed superfast capable FTTC/P “fibre broadband” services out to another 34,400 premises (around 95% coverage) on top of the current contract, but it might have taken until the middle of 2020 to complete and BT said they wouldn’t have seen a return on their investment for 15 years.

The timing couldn’t have been worse because the deal collapsed just as the EU’s original umbrella broadband state aid agreement came to an end, which limited CDS’s options and meant they had to wait until the new agreement was signed in May 2016 (here) before conducting the new open market tender exercise.

Today’s Announcement

Under the new plan CDS has committed a larger public investment of £39.5 million towards the procurement of a new network supplier / ISP, which has been boosted by an additional £4m investment from the Government’s South West Ultrafast Fund (i.e. the £4m should help to upgrade 4,000+ premises in contract two). The funding is also expected to be further boosted by commercial investment from the winning supplier(s).

Apparently this investment will be enough to roll-out Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband services (30Mbps+) and ultrafast broadband (100Mbps+) to “tens of thousands of homes and businesses” across Devon and Somerset in “predominantly rural areas“.

However it’s noted that CDS hasn’t yet set a firm target and instead merely states that “potential suppliers will set out their plan to connect as many people as possible” by the end of 2017, which could also leave the door open for another bid from BT (if they won that might be considered a touch embarrassing for CDS, politically speaking). We have asked BT if they intend to bid and are waiting to hear back.

David Hall, Somerset County Council’s Deputy Leader, said:

“The broadband market is a lot stronger and diverse than when we signed the contract for phase 1. Supplier events held in the past year were well attended with over 30 different suppliers showing interest. We hope to build on the success of the open procurement model for the National Parks ensuring we come up with the best possible solutions for our phase two funding.”

Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council, said:

“This launch builds on the success of the first phase of the publically funded CDS programme and comes one week after our milestone announcement connecting a quarter of a million premises to superfast broadband.

Also, in our most difficult to reach areas such as Dartmoor and Exmoor CDS will have by the end of 2016 delivered superfast speeds to around 5,800 premises – a real boost to our rural economy. We look forward to receiving innovative tender bids to build on this momentum as we move into the second phase for the rest of the CDS area. Overall, CDS is doing well, but we want to do even better for residents and businesses still waiting for broadband.”

The phase two procurement itself has been divided into six lots to encourage greater competition from a broader range of providers and technologies. The programme will accept submissions from providers for one or more lots, all of which will be evaluated individually.

In other words there’s a strong prospect of several providers winning different aspects of the contract or perhaps bidding as a consortium. This is what we have been expecting to happen since last year and indeed CDS has recently held a number of meetings and discussions with alternative network providers.

Whatever the outcome, CDS hope to announce a winner or winners by the end of 2016 and at that rate they’ll be lucky to even get the roll-out itself started by the end of next year (depending upon the proposed ISP, technology and approach).

Separately the CDS programme has announced that their Broadband Voucher Scheme, which offers up to £500 to help upgrade premises that can’t even get a basic 2Mbps broadband service (this should cover the cost of installing a fixed wireless or Satellite connection etc.), has so far received over 1,400 applications and 1,000 residents / businesses have already received vouchers.

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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