Is the Public Accounts Committee trying to rewrite history?
BT may be able to utilise the resources it has to make it easier to bid for the BDUK work, and there are many questions to be answered as to how the BDUK process was set-up, but reading what Steve Barclay MP has written in The Telegraph in isolation one gets the impression that the UK at one time had a publically stated goal of 100% superfast broadband coverage, and that BT is solely responsible for it being scaled back.
"Throughout the bidding process the company has been predictably successful in exploiting its infrastructural advantage over its rivals. In principle, there should not be opposition to this, save for the fact that BT is now delivering 10% less than initially planned and is turning back the clock on twenty years of competition from small and medium size firms who have been able to drive down prices for hard pressed consumers. "Steve Barclay MP, who sits on Public Accounts Committee
Now we do not recall any politician stating an ambition for 100% superfast broadband coverage in the UK, and one of the first speeches in June 2010 by Jeremy Hunt talks about broadband and how while the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment is 'paltry' it is necessary. Then moving forward just one month we have news on the delays to the USC and the 'best superfast broadband in Europe' phrase, but this was couched already with qualifications, i.e. not a simple 100% can get it idea.
There was of course the Digital Hub announcement in December 2010 which created the idea of a digital village pump, which was a nicely worded idea but with little substance. In some peoples views that might count as a commitment to getting superfast broadband to everyone, but that is something of a fantasy approach to the idea, as it would rely on communities sharing a universal view.
At the end of the day, if the BDUK process had worked perfectly, we would have had perhaps BT winning in a dozen cases, the Fujitsu consortium in another dozen cases and then a variety of other firms winning elsewhere. This would not have created competition for rural communities still, as the funding still only went to one player in each county area, now in a dozen years time once the EU State Aid requirements had lapsed we might have seen BT starting to roll-out in areas where it did not win, which raises the real question an important question is the BDUK process actually addressing market failure or is it just reducing the timescale for the inevitable, from a ten year timescale down to a five year one. It is our belief that even without the BDUK process, BT would have got close to 90% coverage by around 2020.
BT has questions to answer, but there are bigger questions to be asked of the politicians and consultants involved in the period June 2010 to December 2010 as to what they thought £530m of funding would actually achieve.