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Hint of Progress as Devon and Somerset Try to Fix Broadband Contract

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 1,762

After four months of waiting there are now signs that the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) dispute over UK ISP Gigaclear’s stalled, and significantly delayed, roll-out of “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband in the region might finally be reaching a resolution.

The original contract required Gigaclear to build an entirely new Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network, which would provide access to “superfast broadband” for 41,000 rural homes and businesses across various parts of the two counties by the end of December 2019. This was later extended to June 2020 following Government approval to expand the network to a further 6,810 premises (total of 47,810).

Unfortunately it was revealed last October (here) that Gigaclear’s part of this state aid supported project had fallen “significantly behind schedule” (in some areas by as much as 2 years!) due to “fundamental issues,” not least including a lack of operational capacity, poor decision making within the ISP, slow deployment by contractors, a lack of detailed planning and a failure to redesign the build methodology.

In response the local authorities put Gigaclear on notice of a possible default and withheld further payments. Meanwhile their new owner, Infracapital, confirmed that they’d already made significant changes to correct for the mistakes. The ISP was also ordered to produce a revised roll-out plan, although CDS dismissed their initial submission as lacking credibility due to limited “detail and clarity” (here).

NOTE: Gigaclear also pledged not to scale-back their separate commercially-funded network (c.43,000 premises in the region).

Since then several months have passed without a single update on the situation, although it’s known that one of the “key issues” was whether or not the Government and other partners would be “willing to extend the time in which their funding can be used to subsidise the current contracts with Gigaclear” (existing funding must be spent by March 2020 but the new plan would run until June 2022).

However there was a possible hint of good news yesterday after the MP for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow, tweeted to say that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) would support her calls for an extension. “Positive response from [Margot James MP] in relation to the need to extend the period for state aid for delivering [CDS] broadband to harder to reach areas,” said Rebecca (pictured top – meeting DCMS).

By the sound of things HM Treasury (Chancellor Philip Hammond) will still have to give approval before CDS can proceed and it’s unclear whether the EU will also then need to run an additional check under State Aid rules, which might be complicated by the on-going Brexit shenanigans. Meanwhile locals in Devon and Somerset continue to wait anxiously for a resolution.

Unless a solution is agreed soon then even the revised mid-2022 completion date may need to be pushed back again, although this may be mitigated by the fact that Gigaclear has continued some of the roll-out at their own risk.

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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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12 Responses
  1. Jim Weir says:

    Reading a lot into an MP’s tweet Mark! It’s a lot more complex than just extending BDUK funding by a couple of years & a quick sit down between an MP & a Minister isn’t going to resolve it.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Hence why I’ve only called it a “hint” Jim. Managing expectations. But I’ve also had some other tips that point toward a positive outcome, so we’ll see. Fingers crossed.

    2. Jim Weir says:

      Yeah Fingers Crossed is about it – strange that word from the civils space is there are conflicting options / plans and none have sign off or resources ready to deploy… just a lot of talk.

      Think everyone needs official statements rather than hints be be sure of a resolution & what that resolution looks like. Lets hope your tips are better…

    3. NGA for all says:

      Jim, 2 years would help others. The B_USO order includes 108k premises <10Mbps in Greater London. About 260k <10Mbps are in English urban areas 1/3 of the English total. It was not, I think the intention of Parliament for industry to fund OPenreach in Greater London.

      There is nice headline for CDS, more <10mbps premises in Greater London than in Devon Somerset, shows both the progress and made the opportunity to finish the work using the money available.

  2. Guy Cashmore says:

    Any BDUK delivery dates beyond the end of 2020 are likely to cause clash with the ‘legal right’ to decent broadband created by the USO, possibly causing overbuild.
    It will be interesting to see how DCMS deal with this issue, as any suspension or delay to this legal right is likely to result in compensation claims from affected residents.

  3. Graham Long says:

    Just a few hours after the first tweet from Rebecca Pow with the “hint” of progress, she tweeted: “Joining SW colleagues calling for 2019 to be the year for unlocking the productivity potential the SW promises – this includes securing a geospatial hub @ukho and completing the roll out of super fast broadband.” Ms Pow seems to have forgotten that the contract she was seeking extension for beyond 2020 from Margot James in the morning is the same superfast broadband roll out she was saying she wants completed in 2019 in the afternoon !?!?

  4. Somerset says:

    There is a half full glass of wine on the shelf behind the posed picture!

    1. NGA for all says:

      Lol, they need that while keep their eyes closed tightly.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      To me the glass looks half-empty.

    3. Jim Weir says:

      Ms Pow also has her paperwork upside down, reassuring our MP’s have a good handle on things…. the minister has filed it, so that is sorted then.

  5. Stephen Brain says:

    I like Mark’s articles and this is useful information.

    Unfortunately progress is far too vague. Everything is drifting and to legitimise it as reported above does not change the fact that we were promised fast rural broadband (with dates) some years ago and timescales are constantly slipping, to the detriment of users.

    What we need are sensible, solid remedial plans to get us back on track.

    Acceptance of the status quo should not be an option and Connecting Devon and Somerset really need to search their consciences regarding the mishandling of the entire project. Sadly, communication and dialogue with then is next to impossible and even my MP could not make progress with them.

    Truespeed are coming up fast in my area and Gigaclear needs to watch out!

    1. Guy Cashmore says:

      Personally I believe CDS utterly broken and is now a lost cause. The best outcome for the region would be to kill it off ASAP and cancel all the overdue delivery contracts.

      The remaining funding should then be transferred to a regional pot used to provide additional USO support.

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