Minister issues guidance to local authorities to release broadband maps

I was delighted to read that Maria Miller has written to local authorities telling them they should reveal which areas are in line for upgrade and disregard advice that such advice is confidential .

My congratulations to INCA and all those who worked together to secure the National Audit Office investigation which ensured that their meeting with the Minister not only happened but bore fruit. Those who want INCA to do more to help bring broadband to business parks and small firms, urban as well as rural, should now JOIN and help.

We have too many groups talking about broadband and not enough actually bringing players to together to put picks in the ground and build business quality fibre to the premises to complement the excellent work that BT has done in bring consumer quality fibre to the cabinet across much, but not yet all, of the UK.

I have learned something new and worthwhile at e3very INCA meeting I have attended, usually about how to get better value from the resources available by doing things differently: particularly the avlaue of bulldozing away the culture of confidentiality with regard to those areas where open co-opetition is likely to provide a better way forward than a reselling the services of a regulated monopoly (alias loop unbundling). I’d personally love to see BT as an active member of INCA looking to make more profit for its shareholders by offering better deals for trunking the traffic that will be generated by the variety of local networks that will be needed to serve society in the 21st century, including the content that its management clearly see as its main future revenue earner  Others might look askance at that view but it may be the only way that  BT can survive against Vodafone and Sky, especially if the former uses its Verizon stake to buy Liberty/Virgin and the latter does deals with EE and/or Arqiva and the McQuarrie siblings. The consequent connectivity choices for those running local community networks could well give the UK “the best broadband in the world” on any ongoing basis, as did our competing railway networks until wrecked by two World Wars.  

There is, however, a much wider point at issue. There should be no “commercial confidentiality” when taxpayers money is involved, except during a competitive tendering process. That was the case in the 1970s when I was Sector Comptroller for ICL Public Corproation Sector (with Post Office Communications our largest customer). We had to live with the knowledge than any special deal or innovative strategy included in our bid to win the business would become public knowledge after we had won. It would have to be offered to others. It was also pen to being copied by our rivals. That was a very good discipline for ensuring honesty on all sides.

I would like to believe that we have now seen the zenith of the recent culture of confidentiality and cosy deals with regard to spending taxpayers money. The culture crept in on the back of outsourcing and PFI. It has led to the public sector, particularly central government, paying well over the odds for ICT products and services as a whole (not just telecoms).

I fear, however, that we will not reap the benefit until the central and local government have rebuilt their in-house procurement expertise, including how and when to choose between competing procurement frameworks or go it alone. Hence the importance of the OFT call for inputs on which I also blogged recently.