The government has come under heavy criticsm in its efforts to roll out superfast broadband in the UK, a report has revealed.
The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications has published the written responses it received to its inquiry into the superfast broadband rollout, many of which highlight the problems facing the government in achieving the best broadband network in Europe by 2015. The report nears 400 pages in length and compiles responses from dozens of stakeholders.
For example, the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), a government-industry forum that focuses on broadband issues, argued that allowing individual local authorities to lead deployments at a regional level has disaggregated demand and will leave some hard to reach locations without sufficient access.
It said in its response: “Industry has raised issues with the procurement approach. BDUK, the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) unit leading on the procurement, has taken an approach that focuses on local authority areas as individual project areas, and uses the local authorities themselves as the lead procurement bodies.
“This approach was heavily influenced by the government’s localism agenda. In the view of the BSG, these projects are of too small a scale for the sector, resulting in too many procurements and insufficient network sizes to be sustainable.”
“Paradoxically, by attempting to create local projects for local communities, government has created too many projects in total, which carries too high a cost to bid in the view of smaller players, resulting in limited competition across all projects," it added.
Portsmouth and Isle of Wight ISP, Click4Internet, responded with a thinly-veiled criticism of the government’s relationship with BT, which is expected to receive most of the funding available for rollout, by arguing that not enough money is being allocated to smaller providers.
“Whether the £530 million allocated is enough entirely depends on the nature of the solutions. The current approach of excluding competitive smaller companies is unlikely to solve the problem with this budget. We believe that if applied effectively far more could be achieved with this money,” said Click4Internet.
This was not the only criticism of BT’s dominance in the market. Geo Networks, an ISP that has pulled out of the BDUK framework, complained that BT’s physical infrastructure access (PIA) product, which allows companies access to the incumbent’s ducts and poles, did not provider competitors with enough to compete effectively against BT itself.
For instance, those using the PIA product can only offer internet access to consumers, not the public sector or business, which Geo argued puts BT at an unfair advantage when bidding for money, as its business case will allow for more potential customers.
“Ofcom has the opportunity to remove these restrictions this year by requiring BT to offer PIA as a product in the so-called Business Connectivity market, but they are likely to bow to pressure from BT not to do so," said Geo Networks.
It added: “There are no processes in place by which this product can be ordered to scale or in volumes and it currently comes with no service level agreements or guarantees. What is more, the terms, conditions and prices for BT’s PIA product were only published in November 2011, which came too late for submissions to many of the BDUK procurements.
“Many of the contract terms remain extremely onerous and are not applicable to BT when it wishes to use existing poles and ducts for fibre cables.”
BT's evidence suggested that its Openreach infrastructure would play a vital role in deploying next generation access and that the “government’s target is capable of being achieved if public funds being made available from BDUK and local authorities are used effectively.”
The government has committed a minimum of £730m up until 2015 to support the rollout of next generation broadband networks across the UK, in a bid to meet Chancellor George Osborne’s aim of creating the best superfast network in Europe by then.