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BT wins another HUGE gov-funded rural broadband deal

2016 waiting game for 140k homes, biz in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire

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Multi-billion pound telecoms giant BT has landed another broadband government subsidy to lay fibre in the countryside: this time for a £56.6m joint local authority project between Herefordshire and Gloucestershire that won't be completed until 2016. That's a whole year behind Whitehall's 2015 "challenging target".

The fibre-optic deployment with downstream speeds of at least 2Mbit/s in those two counties won't be finished until the end of 2016, BT said, while some locals hoping to access download speeds of at least 24Mbit/s via the network will have to wait until 2018.

Funds have been set aside for the government's £530m Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme for rural areas where BT and Virgin Media failed to find a compelling business case for private investment. The project is supposed to be completed by 2015 - which is the end of the current Parliament.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller, whose department - the Ministry of Fun - is tasked with overseeing the project, has repeatedly said that Whitehall wanted to see faster broadband networks rolled out to 90 per cent of homes and businesses in remote parts of the UK by 2015.

But broadband minister Ed Vaizey has recently confessed that that goal was a "challenging target".

And now BT appears to have confirmed some official slippage to that plan.

The Borders Broadband project, as it's known, will get a £18.17m cash injection from the BDUK funds, a further £10.1m from Herefordshire Council and £7.5m from Gloucestershire County Council. BT said it would toss £20.9m of its own money on the pile to deploy Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) and Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) cabling to around 140,000 homes and businesses in the two areas.

The national telco didn't offer a breakdown of how many properties would get FTTP, but the vast majority are likely to be fed fibre only to the streetside cabinet.

BT tried its best not to muddy the message about what appears to be a delay in the department for culture, media and sport's ambitious - or even fanciful - plans "to provide superfast broadband to at least 90 per cent of premises in the UK and to provide universal access to standard broadband with a speed of at least 2Mbps" by 2015.

The company said:

The aim of the councils’ partnership, which is managed by both councils, economic development company GFirst and BDUK, is to have a majority of homes and businesses covered by this project able to enjoy speeds of 30 Mbps or more, with speeds of up to 80Mbps being typical ...

The project also intends to address those premises across both counties receiving a connection of less than 2Mbps by aiming to ensure all areas receive a minimum of 2Mbps by the end of 2016.

BT - which remains the only government preferred bidder to have bagged any BDUK contracts with Fujitsu being the only rival - added that no physical work would be underway in the counties until the second half of 2013 - once planning has been agreed.

The Register asked the DCMS to tell us whether or not it had now fallen behind its goal to outfit Blighty with the "best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015" using a mix of private and public money.

A spokesman at Miller's department claimed that the government's plans remained on track, before adding that some work wouldn't be completed until 2016 due to it being an "aggregate rollout".

He gave El Reg this statement:

The government’s ambition is for the UK to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. To achieve this, it is our aim to provide superfast broadband to at least 90 per cent of premises in the UK and to provide universal access to standard broadband with a speed of at least 2Mbps.

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