Fears are growing that the government project to bring fast broadband connectivity to the UK’s rural areas will not meet its 2015 target, despite Whitehall paying out nearly £3 million to consultants in the process.
The BDUK scheme promises to deliver superfast broadband speeds of at least 24 mbps to 90 per cent of rural areas, and a minimum 2 mbps connection to all rural areas by 2015, but an EU hold-up has increased concerns that Britain’s rural-urban digital divide will be further prolonged.
The Country Land & Business Association (CLA), for one, has spoken of its worry.
"We recognise that delivering this type of infrastructure is not easy but it is unlikely the Government will meet these objectives," CLA President Harry Cotterell said.
He added: "The BDUK process is too bureaucratic and the allocation of the £530 million funding too slow. It would be much simpler if the funding was allocated centrally rather than giving it directly to local authorities because they do not have the resources to plan for a superfast broadband network"
The BDUK plan divides target regions into 35 local authority areas, allowing contractors to compete to be suppliers. But after numerous companies pulled out of the bidding process, only BT and Fujitsu were left as the selected providers - which aroused concerns among EU regulators about the lack of competitiveness in the process.
While the deadlock with Brussels delays the broadband implementation, the Guardian’s report of government spending reaching nearly £3 million on consultants alone leaves an even more sour taste in the mouth for countryside-dwellers facing broken promises and rock-bottom Internet speeds for years to come.
Of the £3 million consultancy outlay, over £2.1 million has been splurged on ‘temporary staff’ and ‘management consultants’, while a further fee exceeding £710,000 was spent on the law firm Pinsent Masons.
Such investment will be under scrutiny now the EU are unhappy with the BDUK process. Malcolm Corbett, chief executive of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (Inca), spoke of the concern in Brussels over BT and Fujitsu being the only competing suppliers. "The European commission at a very senior level is very concerned…Without competition incumbents will just go slowly,” he said.
“Fujitsu won't bid for all of the projects in the UK. If a significant number of counties end up with only BT bidding for their network what sort of deal are they going to get?"
Image credit: Harrogate News