Skip to main content

Rural broadband roll out attacked over BT's monopoly and poor mapping

An MP has openly criticised the way a government department has handled the roll out of the Broadband Delivery UK [BDUK] scheme due to a plethora of different reasons that involves the entire bidding process.

Related: UK government’s new £10m rural broadband fund open for business from 17 March

Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts committee [Pac], released a statement that slated the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for its undetailed maps of rural broadband coverage and the fact that the awarding of all contracts to BT had effectively created a monopoly.

“Since our hearing in July last year, when 26 of the 44 contracts to deliver this were with BT, all remaining contracts have now also gone to BT. Despite our warnings last September, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has allowed poor cost transparency and the lack of detailed broadband rollout plans to create conditions whereby alternative suppliers may be crowded out,” Hodge said.

One of the main gripes is that maps released to show rural broadband coverage are not sufficiently detailed to show the exact areas that will be covered and the DCMS should release maps with coverage down to full seven-digit postcode levels.

The other criticism is levelled at the fact most of the £1.2 billion set aside for funding the rural broadband roll-out went to BT and the DCMS should analyse the process in order to make sure competition exists in future.

“The Department should collect, analyse and publish data on deployment costs in the current programme, to inform its consideration of bids from suppliers under the next round of funding,” Hodge added. “And before that next round of funding is released, the Department should work with local authorities to ensure there is real competition and value for money.”

BT defended the process and stated that it was “frustrated” that the Pac has continued trying to undermine the programme and it is constantly addressing the mapping issue.

"BT is delivering value for money and the National Audit Office acknowledged there are 'robust' processes in place to ensure that. As for maps, most councils have published coverage maps with our support. More detailed data will be released by them in due course once surveys have been completed and we know for sure that we are going to an area,” BT told the BBC.

It’s by no means the first time that BT’s near monopoly over the BDUK rural broadband has been probed, June 2013 seeing the National Audit Office [NAO] launched its own investigation into the scheme due to the bidding process lacking “transparency and competition.”

Related: BT snaps back at PAC after heavy rural superfast broadband attacks

This was before the same office criticised the BDUK roll out for its snail-like pace that has meant that just nine of the 44 projects are likely to see the light of day before the original May 2015 deadline.