An often raised complaint against BT is that it does not clearly define which areas will benefit from superfast broadband when it wins a BDUK project, allowing the more agile rural broadband providers to identify and target those outside the superfast footprint for a project. The maps of white, grey and black basic and superfast coverage while clearly showing where funds will be spent for the USC (2 Mbps) do not usually show the lines for 90% superfast coverage or whatever target an authority is aiming for.
The Telegraph has revealed that the Culture Secretary Maria Miller is to host a meeting between BT and the smaller broadband provides on the 15th July to give the smaller providers a chance to talk to BT and see if the information exchange process can be improved so that those providers who are applying for funds via RCBF or European Funding can get clear and certain information about where BT will deliver services.
The cause is noble like many situations, but there is a real danger here that if BT is forced to define the areas of coverage for superfast broadband before it finalises network build plans that it may limit the ability for them to expand coverage if the project is under spending. Alternatively if a project proves harder to deliver than originally expected there is the risk that BT might plead poverty to a County Council and request more funding to cover the areas they committed to at an earlier date.
Certainty is needed for projects (both large and small) and avoiding the overlapping of superfast projects from main BDUK funding and RCBF funding is something that the central Government and local authorities should be actively working to avoid already. So while the cult of secrecy that can sometimes be seen to exist at BT is a problem, it is equally likely that there may be confusion at the local authority level as to what information they can make public or share with RCBF projects.
The recent news of £250m between 2015 and 2017 to push superfast coverage to 95% will only make the problem worse as the final 10% shrinks the scope for overlap will increase sharply.
Update 4pm Thursday: The DCMS has published some official details about the meeting now. The confusion and the fact that the Government has allowed this situation to develop says more about their oversight of the BDUK and RCBF projects than what any broadband operator is doing. With BDUK projects working to give a minimum of 2 Mbps to all, it was clear that smaller RCBF projects would clash at some point. The question now is which RCBF projects have been invited and can actually afford to attend.