Superfast broadband: don't delay

Don’t hold up roll-out of superfast broadband

Rolling out broadband to rural communities is expensive and technically complex and BT was bold to take on the risk, Prospect said today.

Commenting on the Commons public accounts committee report on the rural broadband programme, which strongly criticises the government, Prospect national secretary Ben Marshall said its findings should not be an excuse for further delays.

"BT has played by very strictly drawn-up tendering rules, and cannot be blamed for these findings," he said. "We are talking about broadband reaching areas of the UK where there was and remains no commercial case for investment. There is nothing to stop other providers from building a superfast broadband network, either nationally or regionally, if they wanted to. They have chosen not to because they cannot make money from it."

The PAC observes that BT will own the £1.2bn in assets, despite public funding. But Marshall pointed out: "There is an open access obligation contained in all the contracts that have been awarded to BT, and we suspect this is one reason why so few other bidders have taken an interest. This requires BT to sell access to superfast broadband to all other retail suppliers on the same transparent and equal terms it uses when selling existing broadband services to its own retail arm. It does so to some 80 service providers."

Marshall added that BT was better placed to meet the demands of publicly resourced expenditure because of the size of the organisation and integrated nature of its network. "This ensures that connections can be made, and network capacity extended and improved more cheaply than otherwise.

"The UK desperately needs investment in superfast broadband for social, economic and employment reasons. Only a company like BT can carry the losses from non-profitable areas.

"Without public money, people in rural areas would not have access to broadband because there is no commercial case for investment in many of these areas. The fact that a private investor like BT was prepared to accept the risk should not be so cynically dismissed, especially at a time when government services are moving online, making universal access even more urgent."