Another British farce worthy of a comedy award
The signs that all was not well with the hyper-connected cities projects, which to date have been more of a political PR exercise than an actual attempt to improve things in cities seems to have ground to a halt.
There was the objections by Virgin Media and BT to the project in Birmingham, which was attempting to roll-out dark fibre in small parts of the city, and then the consultation on changes to the project and the final straw appears to be the EU is saying that a state aid investigation could take 7 to 18 months (part of a DCMS statement over on ISPreview.co.uk).
The result is that the money is now likely to be spent on things like blanket Wi-Fi coverage for sections of the cities and possibly a voucher scheme for businesses to allow them to use it to buy services from the commercial sector.
We have always wondered how the concept of state aid approval was going to work in the cities, where the level of competition is greatest, and this goes beyond the usual BT and Virgin Media as there are many other telecommunication providers who can offer fibre services in the cities.
If Virgin Media was not offering 100 Mbps cable broadband and BT had not invested heavily in FTTC (and announced FTTP on Demand - though it is unclear if anyone has successfully ordered this since its launch) then the case for spending in the cities would be the same as the final third of the UK.
Voucher schemes while slipping under the state aid radar due to their lower value, may be an attractive way to try and improve things, but having seen how some operators adjusted pricing to exploit the Welsh not-spot voucher scheme, we can expect more of the same.
If any politicians are reading this, can we suggest that the cities be allowed to do their showcase WiFi projects, but a good chunk of the funding be passed over to the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF has just £20m of funding currently) to help stimulate the most rural broadband projects.