Government Admits Rural Broadband Rollout ‘Challenges’

Fibre, network, broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012
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Ed Vaizey admits the government’s 2015 rural broadband targets are “challenging”

The communications minister Ed Vaizey has admitted the government’s 2015 deadline for superfast broadband in the UK is a “challenging target”.

Vaizey was appearing before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday when he made the comments.

The committee is taking evidence on the rural economy and the roll out of broadband into those areas.

Surprising admission

The reported admission by Vaizey that the government is under pressure because of its own targets is surprising, considering that only last month, speaking at the Huawei Broadband Forum in London, he said the government was still on track to meet its target of having the best broadband in Europe by 2015.

Now Vaizey told the commons committee that his department (the Department for Culture, Media and Sport or DCMS) was “running as fast as we can” to deliver on time, according to the Register.

And Vaizey appeared to lay some of the blame on the European Commission, because of its delayed approval for the £530m BDUK scheme. He reportedly said that waiting for state aid clearance from Brussels had been a “factor in the delay” to getting physical work properly underway.

Vaizey claimed competition officials in Europe who probed the allocation of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) funds “kept resetting the clock”, which the minister described as “frustrating”.

The EU has denied it was to blame, with competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia earlier this week telling the Financial Times the delays were due to the length of time taken for the UK government to provide the necessary information. This is contrary to claims made by UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller at the time.

One Horse Race

It is also reported that Vaizey was quizzed over how the entire BDUK process has become something of a one horse race. BT and Fujitsu are the only two approved BDUK suppliers, but Fujitsu has so far not won any BDUK contracts, and it has denied that it is on a government blacklist.

“In theory there are two companies involved,” Vaizey reportedly said.

Earlier this week, BT finally signed off on a superfast broadband deal after months of contract negotations with Cumbria County Council. BT has also won almost all of the other BDUK contracts so far awarded.

Indeed, it has just been revealed BT has been named as the preferred builder of a network which will offer superfast broadband to rural parts of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

At the time of writing, a spokesperson for the DCMS said they could not provide any further information.

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  1. Both Ed Vaizey and John White from North Yorkshire admitted that getting value for money from BT was also a work in progress. EU & UK officials will not want state aid funding BT ambitions in content and spectrum when the £1.4bn BDUK/La funds could mean NGA could get closer to 95% NGA in rural. They need to get BT on open book accounting + a fee for this project to secure value for money. The minister should be applauded for holding back the additional £300m until BT provides the cost transparency needed. BT has no need to meet 2015 date so they will be drag this as long as it suits them. Hopefully that £300m can be switched to begin a 25 year Fibre Switchover programme which will have to be constructed to be less reliant on BT Openreach in urban areas.