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No New Devon and Somerset Broadband Contract Until Nov 2020 UPDATE

Monday, September 30th, 2019 (12:54 pm) - Score 1,716
connecting devon and somerset uk logo map 2016

The trouble prone Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) project, which recently took the decision to end their Phase 2 contract with “full fibre” broadband ISP Gigaclear due to significant roll-out delays (here), has confirmed that they don’t expect to sign a new supplier contract until around November 2020.

At this point we’ll assume that everybody is familiar with the broad strokes history of the CDS scheme, but here’s a simplified recap. The project first hit troubled waters in 2015 after a possible Phase 2 deployment contract with Openreach (BT) was abandoned due to disagreement on the targets and funding (arguably CDS wanted more than BT seemed able to deliver within the tight time-scale).

The fallout from 2015 caused a long delay, although Gigaclear and Airband eventually scooped up a number of Phase 2 contracts between 2016 and 2017. Sadly it became clear in October 2018 that Gigaclear’s deployment had fallen significantly behind schedule (in some areas by around 2 years) and CDS ended the contract earlier this month after being unable to agree a “credible” recovery plan (i.e. a loss of faith in the ISP’s ability to deliver).

At the time CDS said they were “working closely with BDUK on a new procurement process and taking all necessary steps to secure alternative full-fibre broadband providers for our residents and businesses.” Under this plan a fresh procurement would be launched on the “open market” this autumn, commencing a tender process to identify new provider(s) of these services.

The Latest CDS Status Update

Thankfully one of our readers (Graham) spotted an update on the progress of CDS’s future contract plan(s), which stems from what CDS Director, Keri Denton, told the latest Devon County County CIRS Scrutiny Committee event last Thursday (watch the webcast). An official update document also accompanied this event but some of the key details only came about as part of questioning by local councillors.

Summary of Key Points So Far

* Some may recall that, as a consequence of the huge delay to Gigaclear’s rollout, CDS were having to work with the Government (DCMS) on a proposed plan to secure an extension for £18.7m of public funding to March 2023 (beyond the original December 2020 end date). The meeting reveals that CDS, even if they wanted to, couldn’t have signed a new contract with Gigaclear earlier this month because full approval had not yet been received (this is now expected in November 2019).

* The current intention is to complete an ongoing Open Market Review (OMR) to identify revised Phase 2 State Aid intervention areas and then go to an open market tender sometime in 2020 this autumn, with the plan being to award contracts to a new supplier in November 2020. Obviously you then have to allow a few months for engineering surveys, among other things, and as a result the deployment would not start until sometime in 2021. Before doing so CDS will require confirmation from Government that BDUK funding will be extended.

* CDS are understood to have around 16 interested suppliers, although given how risk averse they’ll now need to be (i.e. maximum caution around awarding big rural contracts to smaller players) we can’t help but wonder whether they’ll need to suffer the political embarrassment of going back to the comparably steady ship of BT.

* Speaking of Phase 2 contracts and rollout extensions. Wireless ISP Airband have continued with their LOT 4 build to connect homes across North West Devon. To date they have covered 7,369 premises and are on target to serve a further 3,500 over the next few months (overall they have more than 850 live customers on this new network, stated as approximately 11% of properties). Airband have also completed the contract to deliver 5,000 premises across the two National Parks.

* CDS is working to increase coverage within the LOT 4 contracted area with Airband, including the opportunity to introduce a fibre broadband (FTTP) solution. The company is providing a proposal which CDS and BDUK will look to agree as soon as possible.

* The CDS plan for a Community Challenge Fund is due to be fully launched later this year, following successful pilots in Devon and Somerset, enabling local communities to have a “real hands-on say in new networks for their areas“. A capital fund of £295k has been set aside to support this extension. Its anticipated 6-8 more community solutions can be supported and work has begun to identify opportunities working with a range of suppliers.

* Some may recall that Openreach (BT) was set to harness £6m of public investment, which had been returned due to gainshare (clawback) under the earlier Phase 1 contract, in order to expand their coverage to a further 2,000 rural premises. The plan, which represents a delivery of “full fibre” (FTTP), is now said to be “nearing conclusion and is going through assurance within BDUK.”

On the one hand it’s good to see some forward motion and new initiatives being proposed, although on the other hand there’s simply no escaping the fact that CDS have now suffered several years of significant delays to their deployment plans for “superfast broadband” across the two counties. It’s little wonder that opposition councillors have been calling for a change in management of the project.

Meanwhile Gigaclear are reviewing their separate commercial rollout plans for Devon and Somerset, which is necessary since some of that may well have been dependent upon their network reaching certain areas via the state-aid supported CDS contract. As we recall, the original commercial plan would have seen them invest £67.3m to cover 43,000 premises (total of nearly 90,000 when you include CDS) but this now seems likely to be scaled-back.

UPDATE 4th October 2019

We’ve amended the second and third points above. The second point incorrectly stated “sometime in 2020” and should have been “sometime this autumn” for the open market tender. The third point was more speculative comment on our part and should not have been inferred as comments made by Keri at the committee meeting, although we stand by the approximate figure of 16 suppliers.

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Mark Jackson
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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17 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner

    Just when you thought the farce in Devon and Somerset couldn’t get any worse! Let’s hope that those responsible in the council, both councillors and officers, are held to account for holding back services for such an extended period.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      Absolutely no chance, with all the spin and BS coming out of CDS they will most likely award themselves bonuses!

  2. Avatar Guy Cashmore

    Meanwhile, CDS director Keri Denton continues to enjoy her £100k salary, time for her head to roll I think. In the private sector she would have been sacked years ago, but sadly this is local government.. https://www.devon.gov.uk/leadership-group/head-economy-enterprise-skills/

  3. Avatar Devon_slow_lane

    CDS were incompetent from the first day. Then it got worse. Dealt with them a few years ago, there was one man there who knew what he was talking about. Then he left, I wasn’t surprised.

  4. Avatar Niall

    If you watch the video Keri Denton takes no responsibility for the Phase 2 shambles and gives no indication that she recognises that CDS have failed the people of Devon and Somerset. Where is the apology for the significant delay and cost to the taxpayer. In 5 years they will have delivered 498 houses within the relevant areas against a target of 43000. The councillors largely give her an easy pass and fail to ask any meaningful questions about how they thought Gigaclear could deliver something in less than half the time Openreach had said was feasible.
    New leadership is needed and there needs to be much greater oversight of CDS otherwise we’ll be in the same place in a couple of years.

  5. Avatar BroadbandMania

    You can get GFAST in most somerset areas and it’s pretty good.

  6. Avatar Matthew

    Least I suppose the contract value could be higher now if we suppose the Chancellors five billion is true. So more people might get access but dreadful state.

  7. Avatar Fred

    Totally agree that the CDS ‘management’ need to be chopped. Now is the time before getting into a fresh round of contact negotiations. Blaming everything on Gigaclear is a total cop-out. CDS failed in due diligence and carry ultimate responsibility. Rewarding incompetence is rife in public office.

    I wonder if CDS have any idea of the negative impact they have caused. The cost to local business, lack of home working and environmentally impact, impact to education. I suspect they have no idea at all.

    I do believe believe Gigaclear are still laying ducts by the way – some commercial rollout is continuing. There is a duct half way up the hill towards my village but I am sure Gigaclear will never but l build out here.

  8. Avatar Mike

    I have a Gigaclear fibre optic cable running past my house in Ford Street and it’s connected to the cabinet in the centre of the Hamlet. With all thid6in Place who will be utilising this almost complete network infrastructure or will it now languish forgotten while a new contract is agreed probable 4 or 5 years from now. It’s already 4 years and counting. Why have CDS got away Scott free from criticism. Did they not have someone on the case all the time? Rank amateur hour by CDS and Gigaclear.

    • Avatar Matthew

      I expect Gigaclear will be able to rationalise finishing those sort of areas under there commercial rollout plans which they are reviewing if the bulk of the work has already been done.

  9. Avatar Graham Long

    In her evidence to the Scrutiny Committee, Keri Denton cites “Gigaclears failure to do due diligence on the state of Devon roads” and that “Gigaclear had upset several land agents when seeking wayleves across agricultural land”. Yes, no one expected the roads to have such poor foundations that trenches collapsed, but landagents (aka Estate Agents) were placing adverts in local newspapers advertising for landowners to contact them if they get a wayleave request for fibre across/around their fields implying they could negitiate bigger wayleave payments. Greenslade Taylor Hunt and Symonds and Sampson are prime examples who were doing this just last year. Having wasted five years on two failed procurement attempts and then running a third (now failed) Phase 2 rural broadband procurement, CDS only gave Gigaclear three years to connect 48,810 properties by 2020, a date set by EU State Aid Rules in 2012. Only HMG can extend that date by guaranteeing the £18.7M spend beyond 2020 and in the Oct 4 Spending Review HMG failed to guarantee that funding making it illegal now for CDS to agree contracts with anybody. Don’t believe Denton’s protests that they have so far only run two abandoned procurement attemps – they have run three: (1) An open procurment on Nov 13, 2014. (2) An exclusive procurement from BT which CDS abandoned in 2015 after they exceeded to EU deadline for having contracts in place (and necessitating a further delay while BDUK negotiated a new contracting deadline with the EU, who refused to extend the 2020 completion date) and (3) CDS’s third procurement tendering round of July 19, 2016 which resulted in the five contracts with Gigaclear. To make a mistake is generally regarded as a learning experience. To make the same mistake a second time is an error. To make the same mistake a third time is incompetence. CDS hahve now abandoned three procurement attempts. Such a failed organsisation does not deserve to be allowed to make a fourth attempt. But what the hell? – It’s only rural Devon & Somerset taxpayers who will now fall further and further behnd their urban neighbours!

  10. Avatar Ivor

    Worth pointing out that just over the Tamar, Cornwall Council has had far greater success with their partnership with Openreach – a very large chunk of which is FTTP, still growing based on the new FTTP DPs I see every time I’m down there.

  11. Avatar NGA for all

    Across the South West (Cornwall, Dorset, CDS, Glouchestehsire and Wiltshire) the problem to be solved is 129k (my estimate) or 123k (TBB Sept estimate) premises and falling – 114k if we deduct contracted and pending.

    Given this relatively small number compared what has already occurred, perhaps there is an opportunity for these areas to combine for a final porcurement for the region.

    • Avatar Guy Cashmore

      Agreed, at a guess it would be £150m ?

    • Avatar NGA for all

      @Guy if we remove or enforce ‘reasonable demand’ in Plymouth/Poole/Bristol/bath/Bournemouth/Swindon etc the number will drop to 98K ish, so a budget of £150m is a reasonable place to start.

      This is something the MPs could get behind as all clawback and capital outstanding is reconciled back into this pot.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Guy .. BDUK should have room to re-allocate some of their share of the clawback around a little. Demand Aggregation would help.

      Of what remains to be contracted, the SW accounts for 1/4 of the total so it would remove a big chunk of the outstanding work in one go. Note Devolved Nations should be all sorted in terms of contracts pending.

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