Will Ofcom and the European Commission make the BDUK Framework a Dead Duck

The recent capping by Ofcom of BT wholesale prices in the 11.7% of the country where it is the only provider is a long overdue but most welcome exercise of its powers. The requirement on BT to undercut inflation by 12% each year until 2014 is exactly the kind of action that it should have taken long ago to encourage BT to stimulate investment by others in alternative infrastructures to serve those areas where it does not make a profit.

Ofcom has given to BT a massive incentive to offer attractive inter-operability and national carriage deals to those who will help reduce its monopoly footprint and enable it to focus its own resources on where it will make the best return on investment – including bottleneck and vulnerability removal. As a BT shareholder (and as a taxpayer) I very much hope they will exploit the opportunity to the full.

In consequence the BDUK (pronounced Be Duck) framework may be a Dead Duck, even before the responses to the current consultation on European Commission review of guidance on State Aid with regard to Broadband have drawn attention to the wide variety of partnership models that have already slashed the cost/risk of building local networks that give world-class access to deprived or isolated communities. By contrast the BDUK framework appears to assume a community “business model” (if there is one in mind at all) akin to the Ambridge Village Co-operative as opposed to the Borsetshire County Network or Lightspeed Felpersham.

The time has come for Broadband UK to focus on advice and guidance instead of empire building. Where are the maps of existing infrastructures that can be used to cut construction costs? Where is the guidance on inter-operability standards that can be used to ensure that communities are not locked into technology dead-ends? Where is the file of case studies of success to be replicated – and of failures to be learned from?

The Big Information Society is not just a collection of cottage enterprises but a re-creation of the way our ancestors created world-class utility infrastructures (from canals to railways as well as water supplies, gas and then electricity) to support the world’s first industrial revolution.