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Rural broadband ‘train crash’ label rumoured for watchdog’s report

The government’s £530m rural broadband programme will be labelled a ‘train crash’ by auditors according to sources who have seen a draft report.

The National Audit Office will criticise the bidding process set up for the Broadband Delivery UK programme, which has seen BT win every local contract to boost internet access.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will next month be accused of creating a system so lacking in transparency and competition that auditors can’t decided if it’s good value.

Rural broadband ‘train crash’ label rumoured for watchdog’s report
Rural broadband is proving to be a tricky project

Read Recombu Digital’s guide to Fibre Broadband and BDUK“It is certainly a train crash waiting to happen, and that train appears to be accelerating rather than slowing down,” according to an NAO source quoted by the Financial Times (paywall).

The NAO report will give fuel to Parliament’s public accounts committee, which is keen to scrutinise the government’s broadband strategy and quiz ministers.

The culture minister, Maria Miller, and junior minister Ed Vaizey, whose remit includes broadband, spectrum and telecoms, are already under pressure from chancellor George Osborne to deliver BDUK’s promises on time.

The FT claims BT is giving weekly reports to the DCMS, with chief executive Ian Livingston updating the culture minister personally every six weeks.

BDUK has a half-billion Pounds of central government funds in more than 40 projects around the UK, on top of local authority investment and BT’s contribution.

BT Openreach has already invested hundreds of millions of Pounds, and the company has said it will spend up to £1 billion, in addition to its £2.5 billion commercial upgrade of the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

BT said: “BT cannot comment on the report ahead of it being finalised and published. What we can say is BT is delivering value for money via the BDUK process and there are various auditing measures to ensure that is the case. 

“We are contractually committed to ensuring the costs we incur in broadband partnerships are consistent with our own commercial costs and we are also reinvesting savings to go further when we can.”

The government wants the majority of BDUK projects complete in time for 2015’s elections, but European scrutiny of the process has delayed many into 2016.

The European Commission agreed to BT becoming the sole bidder for BDUK projects, after smaller network operators and eventually Fujitsu dropped out of the process.

Chris Conder, of community fibre broadband project B4RN, claims BDUK has allowed BT to protect its old copper networks instead of investing in fully-fibred connections.

Conder adds: “If the funding had gone to altnets then we would have seen real fibre networks built and competition would have meant market forces would deliver a truly digital britain. 

“The way things are the digital divide is growing ever wider, with people on long line lengths still unable to access a fit for purpose connection.”

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