Rural broadband contracts to face legal challenges
Plans to give millions of pounds to BT to upgrade its rural networks under the BDUK procurement rules will face legal challenges from small network operators. They will claim that the market is working, and that any taxpayers’ money given to BT will violate state subsidy rules.
Guy Jarvis, MD of NextGenUs, which is installing a hybrid fibre-wireless network in Cumbria told Br0kenTeleph0n3, “I can confirm that NextGenUs will challenge any CCC (Cumbria County Council) award of taxpayers’ money to BT on the grounds that the market, without any public subsidy, is either delivering superfast service in Cumbria or has firm plans to so do.”
Bill Lewis, MD of Kijoma Networks, which provide high speed wireless broadband in southern counties like East and West Sussex, said he supported such moves.
Lewis told Br0kenTeleph0n3, “I have been challenging WSCC (West Sussex County Council) over their blatant pro-BT stance for years and will certainly wish to continue to do so!
“In this county we have the added stitch-up with the three non-ADSL exchanges. I am informed that they have gained permission from BDUK to spend some of the money to enable these exchanges for a ’2 Mbps service’.
“As the commercial incumbent in these areas for ~7 years I am a bit miffed obviously as when we asked about funding (for) our networks back in 2003-2004 they snubbed it.”
Kijoma’s network provide greater than 10Mbps wireless service to the non-ADSL exchanges. However, maps prepared by WSCC indicated they were broadband “not-spots”. The maps were removed from the WSCC website after Lewis complained that they misrepresented the true situation.
There are plenty of other small network operators that could join forces to challenge awards under the BDUK procurement rules which were written to exclude them. They include Rutland Telecom, now part of Gigaclear, and Vtesse Networks, as well as a host of local wireless network operators.
EU procurement rules insist that any network operator who receives public money must provide “open access” to its physical infrastructure. So far only one firm, Call Flow, which operates in south-east England, has indicated it will take up BT’s PIA (physical infrastructure access) offer. Fujitsu Telecom, which complained earlier that BT’s charges were excessive, has experimented with BT’s PIA offer. It has yet to say if or how it will proceed.
Four pilot studies announced earlier by the government, designed to test alternative solutions to rural broadband, have seen all alternative suppliers to BT pull out. The main reason is believed to be related to BT’s PIA charges.
BDUK aims to disburse £530m in the next two or three years to achieve the government’s goal of “the best broadband in Europe”. It has sought blanket permission from the European Commission’s DG Competition for money granted under its procurement framework to be rubber-stamped without further investigation.
A DG Competition spokesman told Br0kenTeleph0n3 it had received BDUK’s request, but could not say when the matter would be heard or a decision given.
“I cannot reply on substance, or even on timing which depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the case and cooperation with the relevant authorities,” the spokesman said.
I’m told on good authority that Fujitsu has not pulled out of the Cumbria procurement.