BT and Whitehall tell council to keep BDUK postcodes quiet

BT and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told Cumbria County Council to keep BDUK roll-out locations secret

Cumbria County Council has revealed both BT and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) ordered it not to publish postcode data detailing the locations of the BDUK broadband roll-out, despite both organisations publicly stating they were happy for the information to be shared.

The BDUK project aims to bring superfast broadband to 90% of the country by 2017, through a mixture of public funding and investment from BT – the only operator accredited to tender for the contracts. However, despite nearly all 44 deals with local authorities having been signed, very little information on where the roll-out will occur has been published.

In a public accounts committee hearing in July 2013, this lack of data was questioned following complaints by smaller broadband providers. The suppliers said they were unable to plan for covering the final 10% without knowing which areas would be served by the government-backed scheme.

However, Sean Williams, group director of strategy at BT, said he was more than happy for councils to publish the postcode information each held after signing the contract. Culture minister Maria Miller backed Williams's position and called for the locations to be revealed as soon as possible.

Computer Weekly has been chasing local authorities for this data since and submitted a freedom of information request to Cumbria to see the list of postcodes. Like a number of councils involved, Cumbria said it was exempt from publishing the data, saying it would threaten the commercial interests of BT. But, unlike other councils, it revealed it had been told not to publish the data after the public accounts committee hearing, at which BT and the DCMS both said they backed its publication.

“The above matter was raised at the public accounts committee (PAC),” Cumbria County Council told Computer Weekly. “However, subsequent clarifications issued by Maria Miller's office defined what BT meant by information that could be shared. The list of postcodes to which you refer, called the speed and coverage template (SCT), is excluded. BT considers that the SCT is commercially sensitive.”

Computer Weekly contacted BT again to ask for clarification on its position when it came to publishing postcode data, but a BT spokesman claimed the company remained happy for councils to release the information.

A spokesman from the DCMS told Computer Weekly it agreed that as much data as possible should be published, but said it accepted the data was commercially sensitive, meaning it believed the decision “should ultimately fall to BT and the local authorities” of what data is published and when it should be published.

For more details on the BDUK project area by area, read the full coverage here.

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