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Somerset MP brands council incompetent over BDUK fiasco

MPs whose constituencies have been affected by Connecting Devon and Somerset’s decision to throw out its Phase 2 BDUK contract have hit out over council mismanagement

At a Commons debate on superfast broadband Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger has spoken of “the incompetence of councillors” after Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) threw out its second stage Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) contract over the summer.

The contract, which was set to be awarded to BT, would have resulted in nearly 35,000 homes and businesses in Devon and Somerset receiving a fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband service by 2020 at a cost of £35m.

CDS said the contract did not offer local taxpayers value for money, and that BT would not be able to meet the government-mandated target of 95% superfast – 24Mbps or higher – broadband coverage by 2017.

As a result the contract has been retendered, which local campaign group Broadband for Rural Devon and Somerset (B4RDS) has said will put the whole project back by at least six months, and probably longer.

“CDS is committed to achieving a better deal and will work hard to secure that in a fresh approach to the market,” said David Hall, cabinet member for Somerset County Council, and Andrew Leadbetter, cabinet member for economy and growth at Devon County Council, in a joint statement at the time.

But speaking in the Commons, Liddell-Grainger said his constituents were now complaining to him about “broadband apartheid”.

“The county councils, not the MPs, not only did not sign the agreement but leaked to the BBC the fact they were not going to sign it before they told us, which left us in a difficult position,” he said.

Liddell-Grainger added that the most isolated parts of Devon and Somerset could count on receiving a satellite or wireless broadband service, but less isolated parts of the two counties were now missing out because the basic FTTC roll-out could no longer be guaranteed to them.

“Is it not better to work with BT, exasperated as some of us are with it, to get superfast cable out? It is not satisfactory just to go for satellite or wireless. It is not the same,” he said.

“It is still quicker in parts of Somerset to send a letter than an email. In parts of Exmoor, people cannot get television without a Sky box. Does anyone want to put all their eggs into Mr Murdoch’s basket? The answer is no.”

Computer Weekly contacted CDS for a response but had not heard from the organisation at the time of going to press.

The debate, which was introduced by former Telegraph tech journalist Matt Warman, who entered parliament at the last election, also examined a number of issues around the controversial roll-out of rural broadband, including whether or not Ofcom should look to split BT's arms-length infrastructure arm, Openreach, from its parent.

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