BT: “We weren't meant to be the choice for Cumbria”

Liv Garfield, head of BT’s Openreach division, defends BT’s dealings with the £40m bid to roll out superfast broadband across rural Cumbria

The head of BT’s broadband division has defended itself against claims of favouritism when it comes to the awarding of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) contracts.

Questions arose about BT’s dealings with the national scheme, which will see the government contribute money to the roll-out of fibre broadband in rural parts of the nation, following a controversial process in Cumbria.

BT and Fujitsu were bidding for the £40m tender, but the latter pulled out after sources claimed BT was a shoe-in for the deal, despite its bid being “heavily coded with caveats.”

As a result, BT emerged victorious and added Cumbria to its growing list of BDUK projects, including Surrey, Suffolk and Norfolk.

However, Liv Garfield, chief executive of BT Openreach, disputed that her company had the monopoly of the publicly funded roll-out and said it was down to the local authorities to pick their winners.

We ended up being the choice. I am not sure how we can then be criticised for it

Liv Garfield, chief executive, BT Openreach

“These are just bids and it is a complete matter of choice – choice for every buyer,” she told Computer Weekly. 

“We didn’t win in South Yorkshire, we didn’t win in North Wales nor did we win some of the smaller bids. It seems easy to forget about the ones we have lost.”

Garfield described the Cumbria process as “fascinating,” adding: “I believe we weren’t meant to be the choice, but the others dropped out. I am not sure how we can then be criticised for it.”

The BDUK scheme – which will see £530m handed out from the public purse to provide 90% coverage in the UK – is currently being reviewed by the European Commission to determine whether it is anti-competitive.

Garfield said she expected a decision about whether the projects will get the go ahead in late November but was still waiting for “the puff of smoke” from Brussels before saying anything final.

Other large operators such as Virgin Media have not been part of the process. 

When asked for the criteria needed to become of of the approved bidders, Garfield said: “The majority of people dropped out because of their lack of wholesale open access. That definitely dropped a few people out.”

She also claimed some providers were unhappy with the level of contributed funding by the government, saying they “had not got enough cash to put on the table” to take part.

Garfield continued to deny any monopoly, either with BDUK or in the UK in general, concluding: “Yes, we have believability advantages from having fibre to 12m homes already, and yes, we have the scalability, but that is different from a monopoly.”

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