The UK relationship with the EU is a complex one, and it was into this environment the Government stepped when announcing the BDUK projects. The current delays (which are largely to be expected) to projects to improve broadband across the UK, is partly down to the time it takes for each project to be checked for EU State Aid compliance.
According to wispa.it, the Welsh Government is likely to announce BT as having won the contract to provide Next Generation Broadband to Wales in the next day or so - or more correctly, those parts of Wales where there is not already commercial plans to deliver a service. The fact that BT is the sole remaining bidder will not please many, but the real problem is that there are doubts whether EU State Aid approval will be given. The concern centers around the depth of penetration of superfast broadband into the rural areas and lack of competing bidders.
wispa Limited have been given to understand that:
- BT will not be subject to any performance related payments (all payments of the funding will be contractual)
- No penalties will be included in the contract for failure to meet coverage requirements
- No penalties will be included in the contract for failure to meet time requirements
- No contractual obligations shall be included to meet 100% population coverage
- BT will be committing to spend at least what they receive under the contract (so called ‘match funding’)
- No structural requirement will be imposed on BT to ‘do the hardest first’ which will see headlines for cities and large towns, whilst rural areas continue to languish in Broadband minor leagueswispa Limited concerns over Welsh broadband project
The broadband plan for Wales talks of all premises and business having access to Next Generation Broadband by 2015, and an ambition for 50% or more to have access at 100 Mbps.
We are confused by the Welsh use of the phrase 'Next Generation Broadband' as this is a marketing phrase, that means if you have ADSL now, then ADSL2+ is the next generation, VDSL2 the next generation after ADSL2+ and so on. The phrase superfast broadband while not much better does carry a definition in the form 'up to 30 Mbps or faster', thus meaning ADSL2+ is not part of the scheme. In theory the plan for Wales as stated could involve rural exchanges all getting ADSL2+, some more fibre deployment in the cities, and fixed wireless and satellite for the more difficult to reach areas.
A lot of the problems actual arise from the lack of a decent USO for internet access in the UK, this still remains at a definition of functional internet access has to be provided by BT at a rate of 28 Kbps. The Universal Service Commitment of 2 Mbps, which many take to be believe means everyone will have a 2 Mbps connection, varies from 100% to virtually everyone depending on which politician is talking.
Maybe BT will surprise everyone, and do what no other telecoms operator has dared to do in the UK, that is, be honest about the capabilities of a service as it is rolled out in each area. We are not so sure though, the competitive pressure means the emphasis is on the speeds that the fastest 10 to 15% can achieve, not the ones who have for the last ten years suffered from poor broadband, and may have another 10 years of the same.
The current broadband projects are not likely to be the end game, as we expect from 2015 onwards to see more demand surveys and consultations as projects to boost speeds further get underway to meet the EU 2020 targets.