With the BDUK pilot projects announcing BT as the contract winner, and other local authorities announcing BT as the sole remaining bidder it is becoming clearer that the predictions from some quarters that the BDUK process is going to hand all the money to BT is becoming true.

We asked our readers over the course of a week four questions on the BDUK process and their opinion on BT winning the majority of the projects, and received over 1,100 responses. The main conclusion seems to be that while support for and against BT winning the projects is relatively evenly split, over two thirds support some investigation into the BDUK process and why so few bidders are actually in the race. The process started off with nine potential bidders, and resulted in two approved contractors, but Fujitsu through problems with other IT related .gov projects now appears to be blackballed with regards to other government work.

Pie chart showing 68% support investigation into BDUK project process

Opinions on whether the BDUK tender process should have an independent investigation.

A persistent theme for the BDUK process has been that it is hidden away with very little visibility to the public and that the performance of the various local authorities varies so much. Some authorities provide clear monthly updates and timelines for how things are progressing, whereas with some areas of the UK it is as if you were trying to find out information on a secret military operation.

Fairly evenly split opinion on support for BT winning most BDUK projects

What is your opinion on BT being the likely winner for most BDUK projects?

The split from when people were asked about their level of support for BT being the majority winner in the projects announced so far is interesting in that the pro and anti sides seem to be almost equally split. This suggests that many accept the need for something to be done to improve broadband even if it does perpetuate decades old monopoly systems in some parts of the UK, while others clearly oppose the idea of BT getting more public money. The big question that is unanswered for those who oppose BT getting the projects is who would be able to provide similar investment levels and have the ability to scale to deliver and meet the project goals.

Even though BT does seem to have some support with over one third backing them in the BDUK race, not all those who support them actually believe the firm will meet the 2015 targets. Part of this may be down to the delays over EU State Aid and that some local authorities have said so little publicly about the projects that residents are not even aware that there is money to be spent in their area.

Massive 56% believe BT will not meet the BDUK 2015 targets.

Do you believe BT will be able to meet the targets already announced?

Perhaps part of the concern from the public in meeting the goals is that with the deadline under three years away, and Openreach suffering from backlogs of work due to the wet weather over the summer, people are currently being given telephone and broadband activation dates four or five weeks after they order the service. This carries the risk that the commercial two thirds of the UK may take longer to complete, and with many local area projects entering the build phase at the same time in 2013 and 2014 there may not be enough trained Openreach engineering staff to deliver.

The issue over trust and performance is not helped by the multitude of layers that Openreach is away from the average SME and consumer too. This means that frustration levels are growing as cabinet deployments constantly shift and for some areas of the UK they know the fibre tubing is in place for a full fibre (FTTP) deployment, but no actual fibre is installed in any of it. This later issue may be a mixture of skills shortage and the desire to make superfast services available to as many as possible, as quickly as possible.

If you had a billion to spend on broadband, where would you spend it?

Having an opinion is easy, and a lot of the time investigation reveals that a person’s opinion is based around what will serve their needs best. Taking this into account, the response to the above question is very enlightening, as while 60% live in urban cities and towns, the majority of people want broadband spending targeted to the areas where there is less choice and speeds on average are slower (e.g. broadband in rural areas has an average speed of 3.5 Mbps compared to 10.5Mbps in the urban areas). Some 27.6% of respondents support the current model of spending that is seeing some £830m of central Government money spent on the final third, and a good number of cities.

The big surprise is the number that support the idea of a demand led scheme for investing the money. With the old BT Wholesale demand scheme in the end just being used to provide a roll-out schedule, and local authorities having already run demand schemes we would have expected to see a lot less interest in effectively another survey. The advantage to a demand led scheme is that assuming the vocal complainers are also those most likely to sign up to a newly rolled out service then the chances of funding creating a white elephant network that no-one uses are less likely.

The key thing now is for the Government and BDUK staff to ensure that the blanket EU State Aid approval does go through. There are sticking points which mainly appear to revolve around the lack of dark fibre access in the projects, but it is probably fair to say that 99.9% of the public and SME market care little for the deliver method, they just want better broadband available from the names they know and at a price that is the same as they pay now or only fractionally more expensive.

 

9 Responses


  1. RobL on 25 Sep 2012

    The majority of *consumers* don’t care that dark fibre isn’t easily available, but the community activists with the where-with-all to fix the problem positively NEED that dark fibre to break the perpetual rural divide.

    Without easier access to bandwidth, rural users are held to ransom by the business model which has created the divide that exists today. That won’t change unless the business model does.

  2. Bob on 25 Sep 2012

    BT were always set to win theses contracts as the way that BDUK set it all up made it non viable to other companies. Piecemeal tiny contracts from hundreds of LA’s all inventing their own requirements was doomed tofail and leave only BT in the running.

    To really get things moving we need a second UK wide network to provide real competition to BT. REalistically overlaying a new local loop over the BT one is not a viable option so proper and fair access is needed to the BT Ductiing. In Urban areas the new company should be required to install Fibre to the home. In the rural areas it would be FTTC with either copper or wireless in the final mile

  3. Vincent Halas on 27 Sep 2012

    BT being awarded contracts like this, flies in the face of fair competition. All the government are doing is creating a huge monopoly

  4. JayS on 05 Oct 2012

    The piecemeal “bid” process made it next to impossible for anyone but incumbent to bid and run realistically. Fujitsu was practically tacted on to keep this appearance of a bid rather than a non-bid contract. This is the cause to “who would be able to provide similar investment levels and have the ability to scale to deliver and meet the project goals.” The non-BT suppliers already at a disadvantage from the beginning, and the end result of the contract selection only confirms it further.

  5. camieabz on 06 Oct 2012

    I’m in favour of a demand-led system. As the article states,

    “the chances of funding creating a white elephant network that no-one uses are less likely.”

    In addition, the more subscribers to the services provided, the more money there will be for further roll-out. A crude example, but if the roll-out starts with a thousand uninterested hamlets, will there be money to roll out to a hundred interested villages?

    That’s not to say that smaller should be last, but there should be a reasonable balance between demand led by numbers and led by % of people on a given exchange.

    Perhaps BTW could re-run its infinity campaign periodically to encourage awareness and demand.

  6. Evie mai on 24 Oct 2012

    Rural communities should be allowed to do self builds and appoint their own contractors who do pass a certain criteria and installations is all within specifications. Government should then put more pressure onto allowing the backhaul over the Bt network.
    Too much emphasis is on the bigger cities which from a business sense makes for better returns and ticks more boxes as its easier pick offs.

  7. julianr on 05 Nov 2012

    The root of the whole problem is Ofcom’s failure to force the opening up of the market 1 exchanges. They allowed BT to set a price point that was completely uneconomic for anyone to do it thus preserving BT monopoly for 11% of the UK market.
    BDUK is a shambles it would be very interesting to see a freedom of information request on how much they have spent and how many connections have been delivered for that spend. The House of Lords report was hugely critical and what has happened? Jeremy Hunt ( mostly decorative ) has been replaced by some other politician without a clue and the report has been buried.
    The issue outside the cities is affordable backhaul which is what BDUK should be providing so that communities can get themselves connected at a realistic cost instead of whatever Openreach feel like charging.

  8. Andy on 07 Nov 2012

    In rural West Sussex a local Petworth based company Kijoma has given a lot of us around Plaistow a lifeline of broadband when BT refused to upgrade the exchange. Other providers tried and failed but these guys are providing. However, when I went to my local council talk about BDUK they had not even heard of the company and of course I won’t be suprised when BT get all the money, and that is our taxpayers money, to provide a service in competition to the current provider. Local council did not even know that radio based broadband was an option…

  9. andrew on 07 Nov 2012

    @andy

    The West Sussex State Aid consultation lists Kijoma as having provided information as part of the open market review, so they do appear to know about them.

    It is possible the person you are speaking to does not know.

    http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/living/better_faster_broadband/what%e2%80%99s_better_connected_all/state_aid.aspx


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