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Superfast broadband funding threat to secretive councils

Councils who remain secretive and tight-lipped about superfast broadband plans could be delayed access to extra funding. 

Culture secretary Maria Miller is reportedly considering slowing down the broadband ambitions of local authorities that refuse to reveal where the last 10 per cent of families and companies, mainly in rural areas, are located. 

So far, BT has won every BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) contract. These contracts require BT to connect around 90 per cent of a county or region to superfast broadband, defined as anything providing a speed above 24Mbps. As only BT and the local authorities know where the remaining 10 per cent are located, competition can’t work to deliver superfast services to those who need them. 

Superfast broadband funding threat to secretive councils
BT has been charged with delivering superfast broadband to 96 per cent of Wales. But where are the 4 per cent?

Read Recombu Digital’s guides to Rural Broadband and BDUKBT has said that it would happy to reveal where the 10 per cent are, but has said that its hands are tied by the terms and conditions of the BDUK contracts. In other words, only councils can divulge where the 10 per cent are. 

A letter obtained by the Telegraph shows that Miller plans to force council’s hands. Local authorities that refuse to share data or claims to not have postcodes for the 10 per cent will be put to the back of the line for extra cash. 

Oxfordshire and Worcestershire have recently announced plans to negotiate for extra money that would increase their 90 per cent target. But in order to get the extra carrots, both councils may have to fend off DCMS’ (Department of Culture, Media and Sports) stick. 

A DCMS source said: “We have long argued that broadband roll out needs to be more transparent and have asked Local Authorities to publish their data coverage plans. The Culture Secretary has made clear that she wants innovative ideas and a wider range of operators for the final 10 per cent. 

“There is a £250 million investment to be made and it is only logical that it will be much more difficult for us, and the market, to factor in those local authorities that refuse to be transparent about their plans.”

Confusion over councils planning and the ambitions of local providers have resulted in BT planning to build over an area on the rollout map of B4RN in Lancashire. B4RN maintains that it had notified the council of plans to deliver FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) broadband to the village of Dolphinholme and yet BT was somehow given the go-ahead to add the same village to its rollout map. 

A report in Computer Weekly reveals that most councils are willing to reveal the information but in some cases, surveying work needs to be completed before councils are happy to share their plans. Cumbria and Wales have yet to publish any data revealing where their rural 10 per cent lies and neither has Hampshire, which wants extra money so it can reach 98 per cent with superfast. It had better fess up to where that 2 per cent of people and companies reside in that case.

Miller wants all councils to have published details of at least half of the 10 per cent by the end of the summer. 

Image: jimbowen0306/Flickr

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