The BDUK/local authority projects are moving at what is a fairly fast pace in terms of government procurement projects, and while the blanket EU State Aid approval delays may have impacted some projects timelines, many other aspects more in the control of the government have impacted it too.
The Financial Times has Joaquín Almunia, the EU’s competition commissioner claiming that any delays have been down to late data coming from the UK in response to questions from the EU, and the granting of approval which had been suggested as likely in November had very little to do with the visit to Brussels by the new culture secretary.
No matter whose fault it is, there are now plenty of projects that are not likely to announce the completion of procurement and actual delivery starting until Summer 2013, leaving a scant two years to meet the 2 Mbps USC goal and the 90% coverage of superfast broadband.
For the UK government blaming the EU for delays is perhaps to be expected, but while the broad targets were announced in 2010 when the BDUK in its current form was created, the funding split was not published until August 2011. Further delays will have been created by local authorities perhaps believing that the pilot schemes were to lead the way, and thus assuming these would show case the various solutions, the reality is that the pilot schemes are only marginally ahead of some local authorities, and we are yet to hear of any connections delivered via any BDUK project. North Yorkshire is likely to be the first, but as the project built on the work of NYNet that itself started in 2007, one would expect this.
The BDUK projects are criticised for the lack of competition, but the 1.5 horse race (Fujitsu only count as a half, due to their tendency to not bid) where the commercial operator has to invest close to £1 billion if they won all the UK projects, means small dynamic innovative operators cannot afford to bid, and the UK/EU requirement for wholesale access makes the ROI on infrastructure costs more challenging. What the delays do mean though is that these smaller providers, can quickly roll-out networks that offer something better than what Openreach would deploy in an area, yes Openreach will appear in perhaps 18 months time, but if you can beat them on performance and match or better the price then it should be fairly low risk.
It would be wonderful if in just over two years we could look back and see the delays from various sources for the BDUK projects as actually resulting in more infrastructure competition, providing wider choice at sensible prices for UK consumers and businesses. If one takes the common approach of complete doom and gloom, then one is ignoring all the hardwork of innovative small projects and the positive progress that even the larger providers are making.