European Commision approves UK wide state aid plan
While the vast majority of the Superfast Extension Projects that are the core of the Governments aim to reach 95% superfast broadband coverage had their contracts signed before the expiry of the previous EU State Aid rules some have been waiting since June 2015 for new a new scheme to be approved.
The Government has now announced that the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) which will operate as the umbrella scheme for contracts that are to be awarded between now and 2020 has had approval granted by the European Commission.
One of the most urgent areas to be dealt with is Devon and Somerset who rejected the original BT phase II contract and this meant delays in getting any procurement process completed and thus while it is one of the largest phase II projects we are still waiting to see what will happen. Current understanding is that CDS may actually award seven smaller contracts to cover the phase II roll-out, so there may be between one and seven different platforms spread across the two counties.
The new umbrella scheme may have taken longer than originally planned as there are changes to how the scheme operates, those bidding have to provide more information about elements of the infrastructure that can be shared, and other bidders with appropriate confidentially clauses can see this and thus use the knowledge gained to help improve their bids, ie. gain knowledge of ducting or existing masts in an area. While this is meant to help smaller operators expand by reducing the costs, it may actually dissuade some from entering as the full and open access requirements may be felt to be too onerous for operators used to operating in a vertically integrated environment. As has been the case in the past those providers (mainly BT Group) with years of expertise in dealing with complex legal matters and red tape will probably be least phased by the changes.
As with the previous EU State Aid Approval while going with the BDUK approved template will be the choice of many, some may choose to go their own route, certainly there is no absolute requirement to use the NBS but given the time scales of getting individual projects approved we expect any new contracts to be under the NBS.
If we see a new mixture of operators winning the remaining contracts and any new ones where counties choose not to extend existing contracts with BT it will be interesting to see what speed templates are used. While VDSL2 which has been the dominate BDUK technology deployed to date does not deliver 76 Mbps download speeds to all, it does deliver a lot more than some of the alternate options hawked around where the superfast definition is only just about hit, i.e. a product where maximum connection speed is 30 Mbps.