Feeds

MPs attack BT's 'monopolistic' grip on gov-subsidised £1.2bn rural broadband rollout

No 'meaningful competition', committee says

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

The UK government has completely screwed up the deployment of faster internet connections to Brits living in the countryside because it failed to properly address competition concerns as a result of its awarding all its broadband contracts to BT, politicians concluded today.

MPs sitting on the public accounts committee published the latest in a series of acerbic reports attacking Whitehall and local government's £1.2bn Broadband Delivery UK project this morning.

The panel's chair, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, said that BT was "effectively in a monopoly position", after it bagged all 44 contracts under the BDUK scheme.

The race for funds became farcical following Fujitsu's decision a year ago to back out of tendering for the cash.

It meant that BT, which was unable to justify ploughing its own money into harder-to-reach parts of Blighty to invest in fibre connections, was left as the only preferred bidder - making the entire process an academic one for the erstwhile state monopoly.

"Despite our warnings last September, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] has allowed poor cost transparency and the lack of detailed broadband rollout plans to create conditions whereby alternative suppliers may be crowded out," Hodge thundered.

She added:

Whilst BT claims it is making further concessions, this is not impacting on rural communities. Local authorities are still contractually prevented from sharing information to see if they are securing best terms for the public money they spend. Communities can still not access the detailed data they need to understand whether they will be covered by BT’s scheme in their area. Other broadband providers might be squeezed out of the rural market by BT’s actions.

BT’s monopoly position should have been a red flag for the Department. But we see the lack of transparency on costs and BT’s insistence on non-disclosure agreements as symptomatic of BT’s exploiting its monopoly position to the detriment of the taxpayer, local authorities and those seeking to access high speed broadband in rural areas.

The committee claimed that the DCMS had repeatedly ignored MPs' warnings about stifling competition during the rollout of broadband mostly in the countryside. It threatened to once again recall officials and BT to Parliament if the department failed to improve "its approach to protecting public funds".

A hand milking a cow into a cup

Who's milking the cash cow in rural Britain?

The politicos recommended that the DCMS, which is headed up by Secretary of State Maria Miller, should work "urgently" with local councils to publish detailed mapping of their implementation plans. Searches should be made available down to full (7-digit) postcode level, they said. Speed of service information should also be provided, the MPs added.

"Meaningful competition" did not happen under the BDUK scheme, the committee concluded.

It said that "the lack of competitive tension from other bidders put BT in a strong position and restricted the Department’s ability to insist on value for money safeguards such as unfettered cost transparency.

"We will be seeking assurance that the Department has taken full account of our concerns in delivering its next programme, in seeking to maximise competition, in promoting value for money and in ensuring that the supplier contributes fairly to the capital cost."

In September last year, the PAC urged Miller's department to halt its plans to spend a further £250m up to 2017 until it had secured "proper competition and value for money for improving superfast broadband after 2015".

But the committee stopped short of telling the DCMS not to release funds today. Instead it advised the department to "work with local authorities to identify opportunities to promote competition and value for money; including considering alternative solutions, joint working and fair capital contributions from suppliers." ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
FCC, Google cast eye over millimetre wireless
The smaller the wave, the bigger 5G's chances of success
It's even GRIMMER up North after MEGA SKY BROADBAND OUTAGE
By 'eck! Eccles cake production thrown into jeopardy
Mobile coverage on trains really is pants
You thought it was just *insert your provider here*, but now we have numbers
Don't mess with Texas ('cos it's getting Google Fiber and you're not)
A bit late, but company says 1Gbps Austin network almost ready to compete with AT&T
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.