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NextGenUs Threatens UK Cumbria Council with Legal Action over BT Public Subsidy

Posted: 21st Feb, 2012 By: MarkJ
uk mapnextgenus community broadband ukThe NextGenUs project in Cumbria, which hopes to bring "county-wide" superfast broadband ISP services to the regions rural areas via a mix of fibre optic and wireless (FiWi) connections (here), has threatened Cumbria County Council (CCC) with legal action if it attempts to award taxpayers money from the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office to BT .

The council was last year awarded £17,130,000 to help it deploy broadband services into rural areas (BDUK Funding Allocations). The funding is supposed to help 90% of "people in each local authority area" gain access to a superfast internet service (25Mbps+) by 2015 (the last 10% will only get a minimum speed of 2Mbps).

NextGenUs claims that the market, without public subsidy, already has "firm plans" to deliver such services. Its own Cumbria FiWi project, which is supported by an investment of more than £1 Million, is currently connecting up the Eden District and plans to expand county-wide are already said to be "in place" (crucially we note that this will still depend upon "community demand").

Guy Jarvis, MD of NextGenUs, said (Br0kenTeleph0n3):

"I can confirm that NextGenUs will challenge any CCC (Cumbria County Council) award of taxpayers’ money to BT on the grounds that the market, without any public subsidy, is either delivering superfast service in Cumbria or has firm plans to so do."

The stance has also picked up support from the MD of West Sussex focused wireless ISP Kijoma, Bill Lewis, whom has apparently "been challenging West Sussex County Council over their blatant pro-BT stance for years". Regular readers might recall that Kijoma's service was also absent from the WSCC's initial maps of rural broadband coverage, which incorrectly made the towns and villages that they serve show up as "Not Spots" (i.e. areas of poor or no broadband connectivity).

It's easy to see why some alternative network providers get so miffed. Thankfully those maps were eventually removed but the risk of market distortion remains.

Bill Lewis, MD of Kijoma, added:

"In this county we have the added stitch-up with the three non-ADSL exchanges. I am informed that they have gained permission from BDUK to spend some of the money to enable these exchanges for a '2Mbps service'.

As the commercial incumbent in these areas for ~7 years I am a bit miffed obviously as when we asked about funding (for) our networks back in 2003-2004 they snubbed it."

Meanwhile the Cumbria County Council originally shortlisted three operators to help bring better broadband to the county, which included many of the usual big boys (i.e. BT, Cable & Wireless (C&W) and Fujitsu) and none of the small fry.

In fairness councils do face somewhat of a dilemma. Many smaller ISPs do not have a £20m minimum required turnover for the last two financial years and operate closed networks (no viable wholesale solutions), which appears to exclude them (BDUK Framework Rules) from public subsidy (we note that the Welsh Broadband Support Scheme, which offers grants to locals with poor connectivity instead of ISPs, found a way around this). At the same time councils often view smaller operators as more of a gamble.

At the time of writing CCC has yet to award any of the BDUK funding to a supplier, although so far the bulk appears to be pointed in BT's direction; nobody would be surprised if Cumbria followed that trend. NextGenUs are unlikely to launch a challenge until after the council has made its decision (supplier choice).
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