What Lancashire should learn

The report in which Lancashire County Council plans to issue a £40m tender for a county-wide “superfast” broadband network suggests to me that BT is likely to be the winner, if it enters a bid.

But BT would probably be a winner anyway. To meet the 30-month deadline, anyone who beats BT to the broadband tender will be likely to still have to use BT infrastructure to deliver services to Lancashire’s homes and offices, especially in the 34% of the county that the council acknowledges will not be served by “market forces”.

The recommendation is for a single supplier to provide 100% coverage, or as much as can be done for £40m, half of which must be provided by the winner of the tender, which must accept all risks and maintenance costs.

I suspect few, if any, other network operators will be tempted, after BT last month published its draft terms and conditions for access to its ducts and poles to near universal apoplexy among many network operators interested in providing local broadband access. 

BT is within its rights to try to use the procurement process to its advantage – that’s what competition is all about. But what is good for BT is not necessarily what’s good for UK plc, such is the nature of any regulated former incumbent operator.

When Lancashire County Council, and indeed all other counties that want fast broadband, meets to consider the bids, it needs to ask very seriously, what’s in it for potential suppliers, and what’s in it for their voters.