Smaller network operators may find themselves excluded from being able to bid for broadband projects under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) tender framework which is looking to find up to 12 suppliers to deliver broadband services ranging in size from regions of the UK to smaller local projects. It is thought that the tender could be worth £2bn in total which includes some of the £530m of funding from central government which is to be made available until 2015 (£830m by 2017).
A pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), not yet released, will need to be completed by each company wishing to become a supplier, and a leaked copy of this has been seen by Computer Weekly. This details that companies must confirm their annual average turnover for the last two years exceeds £20m. This would include companies such as Vtesse Networks, who would be above this threshold, but would likely exclude smaller companies like Rutland Telecom who could provide value for money fibre broadband solutions. Indeed, Rutland Telecom already have plans to deliver a county-wide solution for Rutland, and it seems excluding them as an operator could effectively mean that Rutland may have to pay more for this solution.
A statement from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that the threshold had not been fixed and that it wanted to encourage the use of smaller companies.
"The framework encourages prime contractors and consortia to use SMEs as part of their supply chain, but requires prime contractors that are capable financially, technically and operationally of delivering at least one complete project.DCMS statement
INCA, the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA), have voiced concern at the way the tender says that it wants to include smaller providers, but on the other hand excludes them through the minimum turnover requirements. There is, however, a possible get-around clause which allows companies to form consortia, as long as they meet the turnover threshold. INCA is also worried that the document seems to redefine superfast broadband to include speeds from 15meg to 50meg, a drop from the previous statement of 25meg upwards.
"The document also appears to redefine 'superfast' broadband as anything from 15Mbit/s to 50Mbit/s. So we could find up to £830m of public funding spent on networks that deliver half the speeds of European competitors.
Previously, government officials have said that superfast means anything over 24Mbit/s – meaning there must be at least some fibre, or high-speed wireless, in the access network. BDUK seems to be stepping back from that ambition."INCA statement