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Gigaclear Legal Challenge Hits Scotland R100 Broadband Project

Thursday, December 19th, 2019 (4:57 pm) - Score 3,296

The Scottish Government has informed ISPreview.co.uk that LOT 1 of their £600m R100 (Reaching 100%) project, which recently approved BT as the “preferred bidder” and aims to extend “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) ISP networks to “as many premises as possible“, has become the subject of a legal challenge by Gigaclear.

The R100 project was established as a follow-on contract to help upgrade around 180,000 premises that were still stuck on slower broadband services as a result of being missed by the original £442m Digital Scotland (DSSB) project with BT (Openreach). Overall this represents around 5% of homes and businesses in Scotland who cannot yet order a network capable of 30Mbps+.

NOTE: LOT 1 is also the biggest / hardest one (valued c.£384m) and reflects about 100,000 premises in the Highlands and Islands, Angus, Aberdeen and Dundee.

Back in October 2019 it was announced that BT had won the contracts for both LOT 2 (Central Scotland) and LOT 3 (South Scotland), which was due in no small part to them being the only bidder (here). The award of LOT 1 (Northern Scotland) took a bit longer (here), partly because several suppliers were involved in the bidding (BT, Axione UK and Gigaclear) and additional requirements came attached.

The project, which is already running a year behind schedule, aims to encourage greater use of “full fibre” (FTTP) technology and as part of that it specified 9 mandated areas for LOT 1 where 25% of premises must be able to get speeds of at least 100Mbps (on a Gigabit-capable connection). At the time we asked the Scottish Government for a bit more detail and they have today responded, albeit not in the way we expected.

Scottish Government’s Letter to ISPreview

Dear Mark Jackson,

Thank you for your email of 21 November to Scottish Ministers requesting information on the Reaching 100% (R100) programme. As a member of the Scottish Government’s Digital Connectivity team, I have been asked to reply.

On Thursday 19 December, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands confirmed to Parliament that the Scottish Government had signed contracts with BT plc for lots two and three, on 16 December.

The Minister also let Parliament know that lot one, covering the north of Scotland, is subject to a legal challenge and we can therefore not comment further.

The Minister will update Parliament again in due course, on progress with the north and also to provide some detail on the lot two and three bids.

I hope you find this information useful.

Yours sincerely

Mick Doherty

A bit of checking reveals that the legal challenge emanates from rural fibre optic ISP Gigaclear and as usual this makes it difficult to get much information (organisations usually don’t say much during on-going legal cases). Nevertheless it’s highly likely that this will add a further delay to at least part of the R100 contract.

As a fibre builder Gigaclear doesn’t currently have any FTTH broadband networks in Scotland (they’re mostly focused on England) and few were thus surprised to see that they didn’t scoop LOT 1. The operator has suffered some well documented problems and significant delays across many of their other state aid supported contracts since late 2018 (example).

An Openreach Spokesperson said:

“We can’t comment on any legal challenge relating to the north lot of the R100 programme and are firmly focused on delivery of our contracts in Central Scotland and South of Scotland.”

Naturally we’ve asked Gigaclear for a comment too and will update again when those arrive, if they arrive (as above, they may be unable to say much).

UPDATE 4:58pm

Gigaclear have responded to say they won’t be commenting.

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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 TheFacts

    Track record in the CDS area?

  2. Avatar AnotherTim

    So, not content with repeatedly delaying the rollout in areas where they have won the contracts, Gigaclear are now delaying the rollout in an area where they haven’t won the contract.

  3. Avatar Gary

    Fantastic news, the Sottish area with the lowest % covered by the previous programmes now becomes the last to see any sort of progress in R100.

    Not sure anything has really changed at Openreach their statement that “firmly focused on delivery of our contracts in Central Scotland and South of Scotland” has been the case for years.

    • Avatar Kev

      You do know this delay is down to Gigaclear?

    • Avatar Gary

      Yes Kev i do. The two paragraphs were intended to be only vaguely related. The first being just a general whine about the low % coverage achieved in the HIE area and this further delay.

      The second paragraph holds true for Openreach regardless of this legal objection. Northern deployment of FTTC Gfast and Fibre all lag way behind the southern Scottish areas.

      HIE Rest of Scotland
      Superfast 80.4% 95.2%
      FTTP 1.25% 3.62%
      Gfast 0 % 8.73%
      Below 10M 12.4% 2.4%

      While i accept there are many denser and high population areas in the ROS than HIE, Roll out into a small town in HIE cant really be much harder or expensive than for example a roll out into a suburb of the same size can it ?

  4. Avatar Ryan O'Neill

    Gigaclear obviously don’t care too much how bad this might look. They are effectively delaying access to broadband for the very consumers they claim to champion. Their losing to another bidder will probably have been influenced by the issues with the CDS rollout and the now nearly 4 years delay we have personally experienced in the Fastershire area. I understand that other contracts are also late.

    Putting fibre in the ground is a bit of a gold rush / land grab at the moment and I understand why they are bidding for these contracts as they won’t come up again. Saying that, they should just get their house in order and move their current projects on a lot faster rather than bidding for more work.

    They have a great pitch, 1gbps rural fibre and not being BT. But it never comes and is continually pushed back meaning we’ve not been able to get any broadband vouchers as something is always ‘just around the corner’. The Q2 2019 rollout for our location is now Q3 2020.

    We are a few months away from the Universal Service Obligation and access to that too will be blocked by the ever impending, never arriving deployment.

    The rural Scottish consumers deserve better than ISPs squabbling over the scraps that are left.

    • Avatar 1pF

      Failure in the Fastershire area with us as well – Q1 2019 but delay after delay and no indication of when it will arrive (maybe, psooible, wind blowing in the correct direction by 2022). The entire A40 from Huntley to Longhope now left with very poor speeds because of the failure of Fastershire to hold people to account.

  5. Avatar Fred

    Wow, that is special. I would think any amount of due diligence would be enough for a procurement team to rule out Gigaclear based on their previous performance (or lack of). I totally agree that delaying a project in Scotland after all the years on delays in places like Devon and Somerset really does smack of a company with no regard for the end customer. If winning more contracts was an important part of their business plan then they should have put a bit more effort into delivering ones they had already won.

    F

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      Quite right! It’s hard to see Gigaclear being taken seriously as a bidder for any other contracts at the moment given its poor performance across most of its existing areas. Hopefully the appeal can be dismissed quickly so that work is not unduly delayed.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Of all the places, how can they hope to compete with extending from cabinets? They will need to build backhaul and handover point infrastructure including buying capacity to all the islands. This has already been subsidised.

      While BT group behaviour has been sub-optimal holding this up is worse! As long as BT is contributing a standard amount consistent with the cost recovery models, then Gigaclear have much richer pickings elsewhere.

      Re-contracting is weird anyway as the intervention area is the same as it was notified in 2011.

  6. Avatar Stephen

    Marvellous. No wonder Openreach activity has gone quiet again up here in Aberdeenshire. Looks like we’re in for another few years of 1 MB/S copper.
    Oddly, my street is still showing as being in scope for the DSSB project, while most of the surrounding area has gone back to “exploring solutions”. Does anyone know if we are likely to be included in this scope?

    • Avatar Doctor Colossus

      How is 4G coverage on Vodafone (VOXI) or Three in your area, mate? We live in AB52 and have been on Three mobile broadband for a year now – £20/month for 50/20+ Mbps unlimited data with only a few cases of slowdown. Good enough for VoIP/gaming as well. Not ideal, but far better than ADSL on a 2-3 mile line distance from the cab.

  7. Avatar Graham Long

    If the Scottish Government are as incompetent at letting and then managing broadband contracts as BDUK and CDS are, then Gigaclear are doing a good job to ensure the poeple of Scotland get what they need and not what the beuracrats find the quick and easy fix.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @GL – Gigaclear clearly showed their total inability to understand what was involved in the CDS area and could repeat it here.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Graham
      Why do you continue to defend Gigaclear? Yes the CDS project team are incompetent but Gigaclear has been woeful too and doesn’t warrant support. It has repeatedly missed targets across most of its contracts, awarding it another one would be ridiculous at the moment.

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