Suffolk has featured prominently in complaints over the BDUK process, with complaints about areas that were believed they had been promised coverage missing out, and promises made over speed that some people living a long way from their cabinet feel have been broken. What is interesting as the debate on 13th July 2015 in the House of Commons reveals is that the project is on budget and ahead of timescale and if this was almost any other infrastructure roll-out that involved public money it would be celebrated as a success, but since BT is involved it is often talked about as a failure and a farce.
"Suffolk and the Broadband Delivery UK rural broadband programme has had some great success. Suffolk was one of the first two local authorities, with Norfolk, to sign a local call-off contract with BT in the first phase of the BDUK rural broadband programme in December 2012 to extend coverage by 100,000 premises to over 80% of Suffolk premises by the end of 2015. There was a grant of almost £12 million from the Government, for which we are very grateful, and that was matched by another £12 million from Suffolk county council. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) is sitting next to me, because he and I campaigned tirelessly to ensure that we got that money for Suffolk, and we are very grateful for the Government support that our county has received.
The speed of roll-out has not been helped by BT, because Better Broadband for Suffolk and the county council have had difficulty in managing the contract. During the first half of the deployment, under Suffolk’s first contract for 100,000 premises to be covered, it was clear that Better Broadband for Suffolk had the potential significantly to exceed the contractual parameters in delivering on budget and to a more rapid timescale. Latterly, it has been clear that BT has been limiting Better Broadband for Suffolk’s efforts. It has been only just meeting the contractual parameters and planning sufficient structures slightly to exceed the contracted plans, not putting any further structures in place. BT will not go faster when Better Broadband for Suffolk could deliver faster. That has been to the detriment of our constituents, who have not received broadband in the timely manner they should expect. That is particularly true of many rural businesses."Extracts from Parliamentary Debate on Broadband in Suffolk
Our understanding of the current contractual target for Suffolk is that 85% of premises should have access to superfast broadband once the phase 1 contract has completed and with a county of some 350,000 premises the almost 1 in 6 premises that will miss out are going to be very visible, since it represents over 52,000 premises. Our own tracking of the coverage is shown below and our usual reminder has to be said, that the 85% is an overall figure for the county, rather than individual exchanges, towns, villages, parish councils or constituency.
|thinkbroadband calculation of Superfast Broadband Coverage In Suffolk - coverage as of 11th July 2015|
|Area||% fibre based||% superfast
24 Mbps or faster
30 Mbps or faster
|% cable||% Openreach FTTP||% Under 2 Mbps USC||% Under 5 Mbps USO|
|Bury St Edmunds||86.9%||76.5%||74.7%||0%||0.3%||4.1%||9.1%|
The problems with roll-out speed are very interesting as this links in with the complaints and fall-out from the Devon and Somerset project. What none of the studies by NAO or PAC have looked at is whether BT is dragging its feet deliberately or are they actually deploying at the maximum speed that is possible. We know from the complaints about install and repair times that Openreach appears to be stretched.
The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy (Mr Edward Vaizey) may have given what can be seen as the standard responses to the questions raised in the debate but does anyone expect anything different. The BDUK process has never promised to bring superfast broadband to every business park in the UK or a County and the issue of plans changing and thus people missing out are extremely regrettable, but given the timeline pressures and value for money pressures, we are not surprised to see plans changing. In theory if the Government had done something radical that the power companies were only allowed to charge a fixed connection fee for the power then one of the major things that cause cabinets to be skipped would be removed. Another point often missed is that while the 6 months of planning that each contract generally had at the start this was only a partial process with planning continuing throughout projects.
One real worry we have now that we are starting to see others winning phase 2 work, is that the continued dissection of the BT work may frighten off some alternate bidders for fear of exposing so much about their own business and also the amount of time and cost involved in answering all the requests of the NAO.
Do you think BT being evil and holding back the nation with its just in time approach to the BDUK work?