Superfast Broadband update

Only one company – BT – is bidding for a £7.5m council contract to supply superfast broadband across our area, a contract which shows a number of villages will be potentially excluded from the upgrade.

In December 2013, Central Beds announced its superfast broadband plan. this map shows the areas they were planning to cover:

Cockayne Hatley, Tempsford and parts of Eyeworth, as well as many other areas of Central Bedfordshire, are shown as not getting superfast broadband. There have even been problems with some of the areas that were supposed to be getting super fast broadband, such as Dunton*.

Plenty of negative comments were made about the level of coverage provided so in an attempt “to rollout superfast broadband coverage further” the council held what they called an ‘Open Market Review’ to see what broadband providers thought commercially viable.

They received a number of complaints from the public over the areas left out, and also received feedback from a broadband provider. Central Beds Council refuse to let me see the feedback from the provider.

Central Beds received extra government grants towards areas not thought commercially viable, so the eventual sum of money available for superfast broadband is £7.57m (to cover Central Beds, Luton, Bedford and Milton Keynes).

To tender for a provider, the council has opted to go via the BDUK•• procurement framework but It has come to light that Fujitsu have stated they intend not to bid for projects, so BT are likely to be the only company who will tender.

Despite concerns raised, Central Beds insist “the council and BDUK will be undertaking extensive value for money analysis of any tenders received to ensure best value is achieved”.

MPs aren’t quite so sure about BDUK:

The tender is due to end at the beginning of February but the council has already intimated that it may extend the deadline.

After the tender comes back from BT, the project board – which includes Cllr Richard Wenham from Central Beds, Dave Hodgson (Mayor of Bedford), Cllr Sian Timoney (Deputy Leader of Luton Borough Council) and Cllr Robert Middleton (Milton Keynes) – will get together to decide whether to accept the tender.

I asked Cllr Wenham about the problems in Dunton at the last meeting of Central Beds Council, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to explain anything about the situation. When I asked him if he knew how many companies would be bidding for the tender, he said he thought there would be two. It didn’t leave me filled with confidence.

• Subsequently a private sector provider has also highlighted potential issues with provision of superfast broadband in Dunton which was originally going to be covered. BT and Central Beds remain in dispute.

CBC say “BT have been working on this cabinet (Biggleswade 10) commercially for a couple of years. They have seemingly delayed the upgrade/go-live date although the DSL Checker still states that superfast broadband will be available in December. Following the Open Market Review, we believe that this is now not the case – and, quite rightly, this is enormously frustrating for the residents and continue to work with BT to get this resolved.The problem that we have is that BT have categorised this cabinet as ‘at risk’ commercially through the OMR. As such, under the state-aid guidelines we cannot support an area where the private sector may provide services. We have categorised this as ‘conditional white’ for the purposes of BDUK 2 – so that if and when they state that this will not be completed then we do have the option to bring it back into the programme. There are a number of cabinets across the project area (and nationally) which are ‘at risk’ and we need BT to take accountability for their previous plans and indeed any non-delivery of them. The impact of not doing this could significantly impact both the funding available and the overall coverage target”

•• BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK, the Government’s broadband delivery arm, which is part of the Department for Culture).

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