Broadband as a utility service is a not even a teenager for the vast majority of people, but its rapid adoption is a testament to how disruptive this information conduit has been to daily life. Alas the rush to improve the availability of superfast broadband across the UK is something that is creating lots of debate where the majority are not discussing the benefits and encouraging take-up but complaining about the amount of money BT stands to make once it submits its invoices for the current round of projects.
The Public Accounts Committee has been perhaps the most vocal high profile complainer and an unnamed spokeswoman was quoted by the BBC last week calling for how the new (or not so new) £250m pot to take the UK from 90% superfast broadband coverage to 95% superfast coverage to be delayed until a full analysis of the current BT projects can be carried out.
"It appears with this £250m that local bodies can simply decide to extend contracts with BT where they are in place. This is just not good enough," a PAC spokeswoman told the BBC.
"We want to see clearly what the economies-of-scale savings for the first tranche of £1.2bn will be before contracts are extended or competed."PAC spokeswoman talking to the BBC
Alas this means that we are looking at 2016 or later by the time BT has presented its invoices and finished the existing contracts, followed by months of analysis by the National Audit Office. In a traditional procurement process this is generally fine, but the broadband world is moving at such a pace, that adding a two year delay to planning for the next phase would be tantamount to sabotage.
What is odd is that the PAC is wanting to learn what the economies of scale savings are, while at the same time as criticising individual councils for awarding the contracts to BT. This is in addition to the constant using of Northern Ireland cabinet pricing and projecting it across the UK, the problem being that the NI project also involved a good number of high density urban cabinets, which may have skewed the costing compared to the heavily market town and large village areas that the current BDUK projects are covering.
Aside from a handful people who appear fundamentally opposed to BT receiving any subsidy, which it will not get until it produces the shoeboxes of receipts for each project, we suspect most of the public just want a solution to be available and for their existing provider to be able to offer them an upgrade. We are seeing an expanding school of thought calling for the price of fibre based broadband that is below superfast speeds to be sold at the same exact price as the ADSL2+ based services on the premise they have paid £15/month for up to 16 Mbps for years, but got 2 Mbps so why should they pay more now to get the 16 Mbps they were promised years ago.