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Local authorities underspent by £150m during Phase 1 of the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) rural connectivity project, and this money is to be reinvested in further roll-out to the last 5%, according to BDUK CEO Chris Townsend.
Coupled with the money being recovered from BT under the gain share claw-back mechanism – £129m so far, with more to come – this means that more than £280m will be reinvested in Phase 2 of BDUK, which is beginning at the moment.
Speaking at the Connected Britain event in London, Townsend said he had been working hard with local authorities to maximise their budgets and spending on broadband.
“There was an underspend of £150m against Phase 1 contracts, which is also coming back in,” he said. “We hope that amount of money will give us at least one more percentage point [of coverage].”
Reflecting on the progress made during Phase 1, Townsend highlighted the example of County Durham, one of the more rural local authorities covered by BDUK. Coverage here has gone from 60% of premises to 98% over the past three years, bringing broadband capable of delivering speeds of 24Mbps and above to 140,000 premises.
In that time, claimed Townsend, County Durham has also seen the number of operating small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grow by 11%, and unemployment fall from 8.4% to 2.2%.
Phase 2 of BDUK, which is scheduled for completion by the end of 2017, is supposed to take coverage from 90% of UK premises – both residential and business – to 95%. So far 45 contracts have been awarded on Phase 2, against 44 on Phase 1. But unlike Phase 1, where all the contracts were controversially awarded to BT, 10 have been awarded to small suppliers, such as Gigaclear.
“Over the past two years I’ve worked very hard to create competition in the marketplace,” said Townsend. “I have personally invested a lot of time working with smaller suppliers to help them win BDUK contracts and also to launch their own commercial programmes with local bodies around the UK.”
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Hybrid networks for the final 5%
Townsend called out a number of the Market Test Pilots conducted by BDUK over the past two years, which have helped to establish a potential framework for using alternative delivery technologies, such as fixed wireless and satellite, as a means to go beyond 95%.
In Hampshire, Call Flow connected a very isolated area with a hybrid network including a combination of fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and wireless at a cost of about £800 per premises.
The Call Flow network tapped into the edge of the Openreach network with a small cabinet, then ran fibre to the top of telegraph poles, where it was transmitted across gaps of up to 5km using wireless. At the other end, receiving technology took the signal to another small local cabinet, from where FTTP took it straight into homes and businesses.
“It allowed us to make very large hops across fields and rural areas without having to dig deep trenches or micro-trenches,” said Townsend. “It is a very cost-effective way of getting into hamlets in the middle of nowhere without digging and avoiding the issue of wayleaves and landlord permits. We’re looking to roll this out in a number of procurements for the final 5%.”