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UK Government Takes Flak Over Superfast Broadband Pilot Delays

Posted: 09th Feb, 2011 By: MarkJ
uk fibre optic cableukThe governments Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office, which is responsible for overseeing the rollout of its first four superfast Next Generation Access (NGA) rural broadband pilots, is under growing political and industry (ISP) pressure to "pull its finger out and get this moving".

The four pilots were first announced last October 2010 (here), yet according to PC Pro not one of them has even been put out to tender yet and the criteria for applying to get the funds remains undefined. That's despite the government's ambition of having the best broadband in Europe by 2015. Each of the four pilot areas will receive between £5m and £10m in funding from the governments £530m budget for 2015 (rising to £830m by 2017).

Moving at a snail's pace is unlikely to help, especially with the second batch of pilots due to be chosen from the first April 2011 bids/proposals in a couple of months time; funding of £50m has already been allocated from the BDUK budget.

Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham, commented:

"You've got to start from the premise that these are pilot projects that were announced in October and there's only four or them. Before we can make any progress, the pilot projects have to be commenced and assessed. At the moment they haven't even been tendered for, let alone commenced.

What I'm picking up from [the ISP] industry is that they are becoming impatient over the length of time that it is taking – these are very large companies that are becoming very frustrated.

I'm trying to press the Government to pull its finger out and get this moving as quickly as possible. No progress can be made as the particulars of the trials haven't been specified from the Government."

The government's original July 2010 timetable states that its first "market testing pilots" should officially begin in April 2011. Likewise they must also wait for Ofcom to complete various market regulation consultations (e.g. for opening up BT's cable ducts and poles).

BDUK Statement:

"BDUK is currently working with the pilot projects so that they are ready to start procurement. Each of the pilots is at a different stage of development, but we expect that the first of these will begin at the end of Q1 or start of Q2 this year."

In fairness, all of this work is immensely complicated to get right and takes time. It's perhaps little wonder that the government's first batches of pilots are being used as somewhat of a learning experience for all involved.

However, clearly the government will need to move a lot faster in the future if it is to stand any chance of meeting its goals. BDUK is said to be working on a more accurate timetable for commencing the pilot procurements and might well miss its initial April 2011 target.
Related News
6th Dec 2010 - UK Government Reveals National Broadband Strategy and Rural Digital Hubs
7th Dec 2010 - Examining the UK Governments Digital Hubs for Superfast Rural Broadband
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