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Halt rural broadband cash until BT reveals superfast plans, say MPs

An influential group of MPs wants BT frozen out of further rural broadband cash until it reveals the scope of its current superfast plans.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) spoke to the BBC after the government revealed how an additional £250 million released to extend the BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) projects would be divided. 

BDUK was set up to provide ISPs with funding to extend availability of superfast broadband across the UK, predominantly in rural areas where broadband services are typically poor or nonexistent. 

Halt rural broadband cash until BT reveals superfast plans, says PAC
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Local authorities launched individual projects and invited a range of companies to bid for the work. BT ultimately emerged as the sole bidder and has so far gone on to win all BDUK contracts. 

The PAC has previously accused BT of stifling competition by not revealing exactly where in each region it plans to connect homes and business to next-gen fibre-based broadband. Recently, rural-centric fibre provider Gigaclear recently cancelled a project after it emerged that Wiltshire Council planned to bring BT’s superfast broadband to areas it had already earmarked. 

BDUK contracts require BT to connect roughly 90 per cent of premises in a county to superfast broadband. Those in the final 10 per cent are left in limbo as it’s not known exactly where BT will be going and when. 

Extra funding was announced by DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport) last year to extend superfast coverage to roughly 95 per cent. The PAC says that before this can happen, BT should lay its cards on the table. 

While some local authorities have revealed data down to the level of individual postcodes, other have said their agreements with BT forbid them from divulging the commercially-sensitive data; BT has consistently said that only local authorities have the power to reveal the scope of BDUK plans. 

Local authorities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will match any extra cash from the new £250 million with their own money and the contract winner, which in all likelihood will be BT, will be expected to contribute additional funding. 

The PAC advises the government and departments on how projects like BDUK should proceed but ultimately has no power to enforce its decisions. Culture secretary Maria Miller suggested last year that local authorities which don’t reveal their plans could see extra funding delayed

Image: cpettit2007/Flickr

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