Connecting Devon and Somerset may have announced plans to have covered some 70,000 premises by this summer, but rows over the project and in particular an NDA clause seem to be on going.
A gagging order is very different to a non disclosure agreement, since an order is usually a court based approach, but a NDA is often a common part of commercial contracts and can vary greatly in what exactly is blocked. The recent PAC session did little to inform anyone, which given its role is disappointing, as a frank discussion rather than a battle of wills could help inform both the anti and pro BT camps.
"To be presented with a non-disclosure agreement was a highly unusual thing in terms of a programme that’s been funded by public money. That was the initial concern.
The public are interested in matters of transparency and they would expect their council to tell them things. There is a quality to an NDA that went against the grain."East Devon District Council and South Somerset District Council, joint chief executive, Mark Williams talking in Plymouth Herald
Our understanding of the NDA councils are signing as part of the roll-out is so that BT can safeguard its exact costings, simply because the network they are building for these projects is the same architecture as the commercial FTTC/FTTP roll-out and for all we know BT may have signed NDA with ECI, Huawei to not disclose the size of the discounts for bulk purchasing.
There is no doubt that councils could be doing a lot more to inform the public about their projects and some are managing to do this, with updates on which cabinets are being enabled and actual postcode-level information rather than just broad brushstroke maps. The problem may have BT at its core, but the process chosen by the UK Government of a gap-funded model was bound to lead to clashes due to the mixture of commercial and public interests. Whether this is preferable to a fully subsidised model is a matter for debate.
At the end of the day if the contracts with BT are so punitive why has the Government and the BDUK allowed them to go ahead? A good many areas that worked outside the full BDUK framework had choices of other operators that fell by the wayside–was that all the work of BT, or is some of that down to the difficulty of working with the local authorities? We will probably never know, particularly as none of the other solutions have gone public with their plans.