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BDUK broadband scheme stalls again over Brussels competition fears

The Government’s scheme to bring super-fast broadband to even the remotest areas of the UK has suffered yet another setback, which may delay its eventual delivery.

The latest issue emerged last month, when it was revealed that only two large companies had been selected during a government consultation to decide which firms would be responsible for building the network. This decision in turn has fallen foul of European regulators in Brussels, who fear that that it will stifle competition and fail to deliver the best value for the project.

The two companies in question are BT and Fujitsu, who were both selected following an extensive consultation and planning period in which the Government spent almost £3 million on private consultants to assist in the selection process. The intention of the BDUK project is to use a patchwork of different broadband technologies, including satellite broadband, to fill in the broadband not-spots and slow-spots across the whole of the UK using Government and EU funds.

In fact, concern has deepened, following the subsequent withdrawal of Fujitsu from the bidding process, leaving BT as the only provider to choose from for many local areas. However, a spokesman for Fujitsu said: “We are committed to bidding in the future and we will look at each invitation to tender on its own merits.”

Concern over BT broadband domination

The original plan had been for a wide number of private telecoms firms and community groups to play a role in the Broadband Delivery UK project. At least nine firms are understood to have been under consideration at the outset, but a number of those large companies bidding to take part dropped out, while smaller community groups were muscled out. The European Commission is concerned that in many UK counties (where BT may be the project’s only supplier), the lack of competition may lead to a bad deal for consumers and the potential for BT to monopolise the rural broadband market.

They want BT to provide open access to its fibre optic broadband cables to any telecoms firms that wish to rent it off them – something BT is currently unwilling to do. Until this and other thorny issues are ironed out, the process is likely to remain stalled, and those in rural and remote areas that currently lack fast broadband connectivity will have to continue to rely on self-funded alternatives like Tooway satellite broadband which can deliver 18 Mbps super-fast broadband anywhere now.

First pilot contract signed for rural broadband in North Yorkshire

Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is the Government’s scheme for the introduction of high-speed broadband to all areas of the UK. Its stated aims include, ‘[ensuring] delivery of the 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment [by 2015]’, and ensuring that ‘this country has the best superfast broadband in Europe [by 2015]’.

Despite the concern in Brussels, and other delays that have slowed the process down, BT signed the first contract with a county for one of a number of BDUK pilot schemes this month. The contract with local authorities in North Yorkshire will see BT deploy the infrastructure to provide high-speed broadband to at least 90% of homes and businesses in the largely rural area. According to BT, it plans to provide this amount of coverage at ‘speeds of up to 80Mbps by the end of 2014’.


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