UK next gen broadband slips to 2017
The deadline for Britain’s national next generation broadband service has slipped to 2017.
This emerged the day after the European Commission agreed to approve the government’s controversial £1.5bn procurement plan after nearly nine months of argument.
Asked to clarify the amount at stake, a commission spokesman said, “In the notification we received from the UK, the £1.5 bn (is) planned for the period until 2017.”
The previous Labour government had set a 2013 target for a universal 2Mbps service. The coalition soon changed that to “the best broadband network in Europe by 2015”.
The deal negotiated by culture secretary Maria Miller a couple of weeks ago leaves Britain targeting a minimum 2Mbps universal service, with 90% of people having access to a 24Mbps service.
On the same day that it announced its approval for the BDUK scheme, the commission approved a €2bn (£1.6bn) scheme to support rural areas in Bavaria, Germany. This plans a minimum 50Mbps network for “commercial and accumulation areas”.
Neither DCMS, the government’s responsible department, nor the commission were prepared to give details of where the UK’s £1.5bn is coming from. The official statement says the amount is £530m.
Pressed on this, the DCMS said the £1bn balance will be met by local authorities. It is unclear whether it includes £150m each for the Superconnected Cities initiative and the extension of mobile broadband to rural areas. However the commission said “EU funds” were part of the package.
This detail may be included in the agreement between the government and the commission. A commission press release yesterday said that a redacted (censored) version of the agreement would be made public in due course. Commission sources say the British government is now making the cuts.
It is unclear what will be kept secret. It is believed that Brussels was unconvinced by British claims that the resulting networks would provide “open access” on a “competitive” basis. This is because only BT and Fujitsu qualified as suppliers under the framework. The Cabinet Office later labeled Fujitsu “unreliable”, effectively blacklisting it.
It is believed that there are still disagreements over the headline download speeds deemed acceptable. The commission told Br0kenTeleph0ne, “The 30 Mbps universal coverage objective in 2020 is the objective of the EU’s Digital Agenda. We consider the (BDUK) scheme will help the UK reach this objective.”
That gives the UK eight years’ breathing room. Well, not quite. Part of the deal is that DCMS will have to report to the commission on progress by March 2015.
It is unclear what sanctions the EU can impose if the UK is behind target. That will probably be a issue for the next government.