Valerie Potapova - Fotolia
The Independent Networks Co-operative Association (Inca) has called for £129m released by BT under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) claw-back mechanism to be put out to competitive tender.
The claw-back mechanism was activated earlier in the summer of 2015 after take-up of superfast broadband products in areas already reached by BDUK reached an agreed level of 20%.
The money is to be reinvested in extending the roll-out of fibre broadband further into the remotest parts of the UK.
However, Inca chief executive Malcolm Corbett suggested that – rather than returning the money to BT-led BDUK projects – it should seek competitive responses from BT and alternative suppliers.
Inca represents more than 55 alternative suppliers or altnets, including increasingly well-known names such as CityFibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear – which has already won a number of second-phase BDUK contracts – and community-led projects such as B4RN, Fibre GarDen and Cybermoor.
Corbett said the association had first-hand knowledge of the value for money such providers were delivering.
“Increasingly, government and BDUK see these suppliers as forming an important part of the mix for maximising coverage and achieving the best possible value for money for local broadband schemes.
More often than not, investment from altnets requires less public subsidy than telcos – for example, 50% rather than 85% – and regularly requires no public funding at all,” he said.
“This is partly due to their local knowledge of the community and geography, as well as the fact that they can be far more flexible in their approach and commit private investment to areas BT finds challenging.
“It is unacceptable that many urban areas, in addition to the well-publicised rural notspots, still suffer from poor broadband. It is the alternative providers that are often willing to invest in digitally deprived areas, when others would prefer to wait for a subsidy to materialise,” said Corbett.
A recent survey of Inca members claimed that more than a million premises were already able to access broadband infrastructure built, owned and managed by its members – a third of the total number of premise BDUK has passed with “superfast” 24Mbps fibre. It said this figure was set to rise dramatically in the next few years.
Inca argued that, by engaging the altnet sector, coverage could be extended further and quicker, with the maximum value for taxpayers’ and investors’ money and to the benefit of users.
BT declined to comment on the proposal, although it should be noted that no claw-back money would be available at all if consumers hadn’t responded to its network build.