BT and government under fresh fire over rural broadband

BT and the government have come under fresh criticism over the provision of broadband services to rural areas

BT and the government have come under fresh criticism over the provision of broadband services to rural areas.

Broadband is viewed as essential for business and education in rural areas as well as the provision of government’s cloud-based digital services.

According to parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), many of the maps of planned implementations lack sufficient detail about broadband coverage and speeds to be provided.

The PAC said the lack of detail makes it difficult for competitors to identify where they could fill gaps in BT's coverage or offer faster speeds, reports the BBC.

The committee has also raised concern over allegations that BT had taken advantage of the lack of information to expand into areas that rivals had shown interest in, and that BT refused to boost speeds to at least one village considered too expensive to cover after winning a contract.

In response, BT issued a statement saying that the National Audit office has acknowledged there are “robust” processes in place to ensure BT is delivering value for money.

The company said more detailed maps of planned broadband coverage will be published when plans are finalised and more data is available.

BT also denied changing plans to block competitors. The company said changes in its plans were the result of the surveys it carried out after being awarded the contracts.

In government response, communications minister Ed Vaizey said telecoms regulator Ofcom had recently ranked the UK's provision of broadband ahead of other countries.

"The government's nationwide broadband rollout is ahead of schedule; multiple robust safeguards are already in place to ensure value for money, and thousands of homes and businesses up and down the country are already getting the benefits,” he said.

The government claims that by 2015, it will have provided a £490m in grants to local authorities in the UK to subsidise the infrastructure required to improve rural broadband.

The government’s goal is to achieve download speeds of at least two megabits per second (Mbps) throughout the UK and of 20Mbps for 90% of building in the country.

Last year the PAC raised concern that tax payers could be “ripped off” after BT won the first 26 bid put out to tender. Since then, it has won all of the 18 additional contracts on offer.

The PAC said that placed BT in a monopoly position, which meant that officials could never be sure if they had received value for money.

The PAC has called on government to analyse and publish details of this round's deployment costs to help local authorities be better informed .

The committee has also called on government to address the “lack of competitive tension” in the tendering process before releasing a further £500m to enhance broadband coverage after 2015.

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