Miller meeting fails on key rural broadband issues
Monday’s meeting between culture secretary Maria Miller and representatives from BT, BDUK and would-be network operators in the Final 10% (altnets) failed to produce concrete evidence of the government’s willingness to engage with the issues that bedevil the roll-out of a true value for money next generation broadband network in the UK.
The official statement reads:
This was a constructive meeting between the Secretary of State, BT and the most advanced community-led rural broadband schemes. It was agreed that all parties would work together, along with local authorities, to ensure that projects applying for the Rural Community Broadband Fund could co-exist happily alongside the wider rural broadband scheme, being led by BT.
The Government is clear that there is a range of options for the delivery of superfast broadband to the hardest parts to reach of the UK. The recently announced £250 million extra funding will ensure that superfast broadband can reach 95 per cent of premises by 2017.
BT declined to add anything from its side, while INCA (Independent Networks Co-operative Association) executive director Malcolm Corbett was emollient in his response. : “It’s clear that Maria Miller wants to see the RCBF projects go ahead,” he said.
In the meeting, Miller may have had BT’s Liv Garfield and Bill Murphy on the back foot, but their defence was worthy of Geoffrey Boycott because the meeting failed to agree:
- whether the altnets have access to the £250m
- when the RCBF money will be released to the six altnets
- the speed, coverage and timing details of BT’s roll-out in the areas the altnets propose to cover
- a guarantee that BT will not be allowed to overbuild the altnets
- what BT will do to improve NGA access to business parks and other business clusters
In short, the meeting allowed those in the room to air their frustrations and Miller to save some face in the wake of the highly critical NAO, Pennell, and National Projects reports. The Public Accounts Committee meets today to discuss the NAO report.
This is not to say that the above details won’t emerge in the fullness of time. However, the government has already granted itself a two year extension of delivering “the best broadband network in Europe by 2015″.
There is growing evidence that BT is using the same fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) tactics it employed in 2003 to disrupt the efforts of altnets to establish themselves: unfulfilled promises to deliver services, visits to local councillors, delays in releasing speed and coverage details, counter-proposals once demand has been established in an area, etc. This may be acceptable if the market is competitive; but Ofcom has found it is not, and the NAO has said the BDUK money will entrench BT’s monopoly.
Miller needs to ask whether the cost to the nation of BT’s behaviour is acceptable, and to act accordingly.