Final call for Final 10%
Perhaps it originally planned to hold the meeting in a BT telephone booth, but the department of culture, media & sport (DCMS), has rethought its venue to seek ideas on how best to get broadband to the Final 10% of UK homes.
As this issue has been debated since the first broadband roll-out started in 2000, it is likely the real purpose of the meeting is to terrify and confuse altnets and local authorities about the risks, restrictions and complexities around state aid, and to create enough fear, uncertainty and doubt that BT gets a default decision.
Through BDUK, the agency charged with delivering Superfast Broadband Britain, DCMS published its invitation to the 7 October talk-fest in a Prior Information Notice (2013/S 189-326234) on OJEU on Saturday 28 September. This gave interested parties just five working days to prepare. As those most interested in the discussion are likely to be living in the most remote, inaccessible parts of the country, i.e. the Final 10% where broadband is slow to non-existent, DCMS may not be expecting a crowd.
According to the OJEU notice, DCMS is “particularly keen to see suggestions for how to deliver superfast broadband to some of the UK’s hardest to reach areas, including those options which might give communities an opportunity to shape local solutions.”
It went on, “BDUK is seeking expressions of interest from potential prime contractors, consortia, sub-contractors or other interested parties in the broadband delivery supply chain who may be interested in responding to any subsequent procurement activity and is using this PIN as a mechanism to identify as many suppliers as possible in this space. Supplier views will be requested by the end of October 2013 at the latest.”
Some might regard this sudden desire for enlightenment as welcome. After all, some of the 50+ projects that have applied for money from the £20 Rural Community Broadband Fund, run jointly by BDUK and DEFRA, have been stalled for two years. Might this meeting unfreeze that fund?
Perhaps not. Hours after it was published it emerged that BT commissioned consultancy Analysys Mason, which spelled out why hiring anyone other than BT might be a “courageous decision”.
It did grudgingly suggest that BT would tolerate the locals’ efforts to get connected if they bought their equipment from BT, dug it into the ground and connected it up the homes and hamlets, waived their rights to wayleave income, and donated the resulting network to BT for BT to sell back to them. This is known as the Build and Benefit option, one which Penrith and Borders MP Rory Stewart has promoted and is currently on trial at Fell End in Cumbria.
BTW, on 9 May last year BT announced Penrith was the first Cumbrian community to get “superfast broadband”. On 29 November 2012 Stewart was present to celebrate the signing of a £40m next generation broadband contract between BT, represented by BT NGA project MD Bill Murphy, and Cumbria County Council’s Elizabeth Mallinson.
If readers would like to attend, and they should know space is limited, they should email Andy Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 020 7211 6043 for an invitation.