Isle of Wight defers decision on BDUK project for 1 month
The Isle of Wight with the recent decision to defer picking BT as the preferred bidder for its BDUK project that aims to get superfast broadband available as an option to 90% of the island and 2 Mbps at least for everyone. This delay of a month months means that the Isle of Wight may be one of the last areas of the UK to sign its contract and like being at the end of any queue for hand outs runs the risk that BT may have spent its last penny with other areas.
Update 12:30pm We originally said the delay was three months, but while that was proposed it appears the council settled on a one month delay.
The Isle of Wight is different to many of the BDUK projects across the UK, both in geographic terms i.e. it is an island and with a population of around 140,500 it is one of the smaller project areas. It also has WightFibre who operate a DOCSIS 3.0 cable network who are even more vehement in their use of the word fibre than Virgin Media and may have sown the seeds for confusion as they are apparently planning to do some FTTH to a new housing development later in the year. WightFibre also run a wireless network on the parts of the island without their cable network, which suggests that maybe there is no-one who cannot get 2 Mbps already, this wireless network is also due for upgrades to offer up to 50 Mbps later in the year.
The Open Market Review carried out by the council indicates that commercial operators have declared intent to cover 70% of the premises on the island with NGA type solutions (which in theory includes fixed wireless if the speeds are appropriate), which is at odds with the statements on the WightFibre website and comments on the OnTheWight website that suggest WightFibre has the coverage issue under control.
The Open Market Review (OMR) is meant to establish both existing coverage and future coverage for the next three years, and in other parts of the UK includes Virgin Media cable coverage, so the fact that WightFibre is a vertical operation with no alternate retail operators on the network should not be an issue. There was previously doubt over whether fixed wireless was sufficient for an NGA solution, but if speeds of up to 50 Mbps are possible then this should also be part of the OMR.
Is the problem really that the council for the Isle of Wight has not had the assistance needed from the BDUK to help process the options and changing landscape as the rules involved have been fluid in their interpretation, and options for not following the full BDUK process were maybe not laid out clearly.
At the end of the day if the council does ride roughshod over firm plans that were submitted to the council by WightFibre then EU State Aid rules could be used to halt the project in its tracks. The question really is how firm are those plans and why do so many on the island buy services from the big names like TalkTalk, Sky and BT in areas where FTTC is available if the WightFibre coverage and speed is so good?