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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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At issue is whether Devon and Somerset should give their funds to BT to extend fibre to the cabinet (laving remote areas unserved) or go out to open tender in the hope of getting a mix of fibre to the premises and wireless to all: akin to West Berkshire, North Oxfordshire, Gloucester, Hereford etc. My understanding is that they wanted to go to open tender in the beginning but BT refused to bid - the councils then entered into negotiation on a single tender but faced a revolt from those who would not be served by what was on offer. If that is correct ...

I recommend reading the full debate
Liddell-Grainger is perhaps missing the point. Satellite and wireless are not the only two technologies available and are, as such, only interim techs, just as FTTC is. Nor are BT and Sky the only potential providers; in fact, more usually, BT is the cause of disconnected areas and broadband woes.

The whole region should become more ambitious and plump for FTTH, which is a job that only needs doing once and will need little additional funding to keep pace with other more advanced rural counties such as Lancashire (who can offer 10 Gbps symmetrical TODAY in October 2015 through B4RN - a community-owned venture) and countries such as Estonia, Sweden, Lithuania etc who have also taken the true fibre route in rural areas, often with utility JVs.

As Point Topic have clearly pointed out, FTTH is now at a point of economic viability. It in fact always has been, just not for telcos who want to continue sweating their copper assets and lying about the payback on FTTH whilst avoiding all issues and joined up thinking regarding the social and economic benefits to their very own customers.

MPs and media have been very seriously misled for almost two decades about the economic viability of rural fibre and ignored the social capital and economic impact that FTTH brings to any area, as well as reduced costs for all users, including public sector.

Should CDS be forced down the route of FTTC with BT, there would surely be a case for judicial review? It is now clearly obvious that FTTC is a very poor decision, particularly with public funding, however rural and remote the deployment area. In fact, FTTC is probably the WORST long and short-term investment decision that could be made for rural and remote areas, particularly when FTTH has now been demonstrated in multiple scenarios to be the right tech for the job, and economically and environmentally more efficient and beneficial than FTTC, G-Fast, wireless, satellite etc. The evidence is there for any right-thinking council to see for themselves.
People do not need a Sky box for TV, use Freesat.
Lindsey - do you agree that there should be enough government funding provided for 100% FTTP?