DCMS to force BT’s hand on rural broadband gaps

Maria Miller sets up a meeting to answer calls from local broadband providers and try to make BT identify where they will be needed to connect the final 10% of the UK to superfast fibre

The minister for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Maria Miller, has invited local broadband providers to a meeting in Whitehall with BT, hoping to hammer out issues of where their technology will be needed in the UK’s broadband roll-out.  

Smaller internet service providers (ISPs) across the country have complained to Maria Miller that BT has not revealed where the gaps will be after it completes its fibre installations, which aim to cover 90% of the population by 2015.

As such, they have been unable to make plans for their own deployments to give the most rural locations – not deemed commercially viable by the telecoms giant – faster connectivity.

Miller said the department was aware of the “widespread concern” as it was stopping the providers from applying for grants from the Rural Community Broadband Fund, set up by the government to support the roll-out. However, she said she was “determined to find a way of remedying this situation by ensuring you have access to the information you need”.

As a result, Miller will host a meeting alongside communications minister Ed Vaizey and senior representatives from BT to “determine how your applications should be progressed”.

One organisation set to attend told Computer Weekly they thought it was a positive step and showed “Westminster is starting to listen and realise that there are alternatives to providing a digital future for rural Britain”.

BT said it had yet to receive full details of the proposed summit, but added that it would be supportive.

However, a source close to the situation said the issue came at the local authority end, as until BDUK contracts to roll out government-funded fibre in localised areas were set in stone, it was impossible for BT to identify which areas would be connected and those that would need the additional installations.

With the planning process for each area taking between six to nine months and 18 contracts still yet to be signed, it could still be some time before the problems are concluded.

The meeting is due to take place on Monday 15 July.

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In Devon and Somerset there are already 96,500 premises left out of any funding or any other plans. They are not that difficult to reach, they are connected to cabinets that are in commercially viable areas. They are the large digital cracks in the DCMS approach to superfast provision in the UK.

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The source who claims the problem is with the local authorities has a serious axe to grind. The deficit funding model behind the BDUK framework puts the onus on BT to state which areas it cannot serve without state aid. However, as I said in my blog entry before the NAO report was published http://www.computerweekly.com/... then time has come for BT to use the opportunity to get out of some seriously unprofitable dead-end contracts and, instead, enter into partnerships with those who can call on community funding and support in kind that they cannot: e.g. the waiving of wayleave charges and sharing of alternative infrastructures.

I regard Maria Miller's initiative as excellent news because it offers a way to everyone off the hook.

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