DCMS mismanaged £1.2bn BDUK project – PAC
Anyone who watched the Public Accounts Committee hearing on the value for money likely to be achieved by the government’s next generation rural broadband programme would have had no doubt that the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), its agency Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), and BT were in for a roasting.
In its report published today, PAC chairman Margaret Hodge MP said, “The programme to extend superfast broadband to rural areas has been mismanaged by the DCMS. The sole provider BT has been placed in a quasi-monopolistic position which it is exploiting by restricting access to cost and roll-out information. The consumer is failing to get the benefits of healthy competition and BT will end up owning assets created from £1.2bn of public money.”
None of this is new to regular readers of this blog, who have been following the BDUK money with a growing sense of dismay. What is new is that the political establishment can no longer ignore the fact that BT has run rings around them.
Despite the evidence collected by the National Audit Office and the PAC, it continues to protest its innocence. “We are disturbed by today’s report, which we believe is simply wrong and fails to take on board a point-by-point correction we sent to the committee several weeks ago,” it told the BBC.
The broadcaster said BT denied that it had failed to deliver value for money for the taxpayer and said that, even with the public subsidies, it would take it 15 years to pay back its investment in rural broadband.
That’s three years longer than Bill Murphy, MD of BT’s Next Generation project, has said publicly, more than once.
“Rolling out fibre is an expensive and complex business,” BT told the broadcaster, ignoring the fact that farmers and housewives are doing a fair job of it, self-funded and self-taught, in rural Lancashire, with the B4RN project, despite BT’s efforts to undermine them.
Responding to the report, Malcolm Corbett, the CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association, (Inca)who gave evidence to the PAC,said “The PAC expressed real concern about the lack of competition in the programme, BT’s lack of transparency over costs, its deployment plans, the overall level of state aid, the reduction in BT’s financial contribution and delays to the programme.”
On behalf of Inca members he called for
- transparency over BT’s costs and deployment plans
- competition where alternative providers and communities are willing to invest in fibre and high speed wireless networks, BT should not be allowed to roll over them with state subsidy
- full, unfettered access for alternative providers to all of BT’s publicly-funded infrastructure to promote genuine competition and choice, and
- new investment models to promote investment, innovation and better value for money for the next £250m the government is committing to rural broadband.