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Devon and Somerset Councils throw out BT BDUK bid

Devon and Somerset Councils reject BT’s bid for Phase 2 of BDUK and will put the contract back out to tender

BT has lost out on a £35m contract to take Devon and Somerset Councils’ Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme – Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) – into the second phase of the project, after the two councils said its bid did not present value for money.

The councils said BT would not be able to meet the government-mandated target of 95% superfast (24Mbps or higher) broadband coverage by 2017 and, as a result, they would put the contract back out to tender.

The rejection of the bid does not affect the first phase of BDUK in Devon and Somerset, which remains on track to pass 90% of premises in the two counties by 2016. So far, Openreach has enabled 450 cabinets with fibre broadband in Devon and Somerset, and over 100,000 homes and businesses have signed up to receive superfast broadband.

CDS is composed of six local authorities: Somerset, Devon, North Somerset, Torbay, Plymouth and Bath and North East Somerset.

In a statement to the Western Morning News, Somerset County Council cabinet member David Hall blasted BT for letting councils, the CDS, businesses and residents down.

“We have a duty to seek best value for all our residents and their tender for the next phase of the programme was just not up to scratch,” Hall told the newspaper. He insisted the two councils had tried to act in the best interests of all their constituents.

Concerns over return on investment

In a statement seen by Computer Weekly, BT said it was still committed to phase one of the project and was “disappointed” that it could not reach agreement on the next phase of the Connecting Devon and Somerset scheme.

“We believe we have made the best possible offer to take superfast broadband coverage beyond the current target of around 90% by the end of next year, taking into account the challenging and remote nature of some locations in the two counties,” said a spokesperson.

BT said its offer would have connected 34,400 more households and businesses across Devon and Somerset by June 2020, with many thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cable and 1,000 new cabinets to be deployed. It pointed out that it would take at least 15 years for it to see a return on its investment in the area.

“Our work with superfast broadband partnerships around the country has shown that, when we make a commitment we stick to it, and we have successfully agreed extension contracts with dozens of partnerships.

“We would very much welcome working with Connecting Devon and Somerset and making another substantial investment to further extend superfast broadband coverage, but of course any agreement has to be based on what can realistically be achieved. We will continue to work to try to find a solution,” said BT.

Connecting Devon and Somerset had not yet issued a statement on the re-tendering process at the time of writing.

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So BT has won West Yorkshire Phase 2, lost Gloucestershire and Epping Forest (to Gigaclear) and Devon and Somerset have decided to go out to open tender. Meanwhile Vrigin is focused on bringing competition to Manchester. At long last we are beginning to see genuine competition.
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