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Government incompetence hands BT broadband monopoly

Rural Britain (Credit: Flickr user llee_wu)

Government and BT must release more details of where broadband roll-out is happening and how fast it will be

Britain’s £1.2 billion rural broadband programme is in total disarray with rural communities stuck with little or no competition as BT continues to expand and abuse its monopoly.

The latest damning report from the public accounts committee criticises both the Government and BT for failing to act on warnings that they are ruining Britain’s much-hyped rural broadband project.

It is now calling for urgent action to halt BT’s taxpayer funded monopoly from being expanded further. The programme is aiming to deliver faster broadband to rural areas of the UK, but it has been mired in controversy. Public funding for the programme stands at £1.2bn, with all of that money so far being handed to BT. The committee has criticised the Government for failing to implement adequate safeguards to ensure public money is well spent.

To date every single rural broadband contract has been won by BT, with smaller operators muscled out of the process entirely. Local authorities are subject to a contractual gag that prevents them from sharing information about their deals with BT.

Local residents are also prevented from accessing the detailed data that they need to understand whether or not BT’s scheme will cover their area. The committee has criticised BT for “exploiting its monopoly position to the detriment of the taxpayer, local authorities and those seeking to access high speed broadband in rural areas.”

The committee has called on Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is responsible for the programme, to publish detailed mapping of their implementation plans, including full seven-digit postcodes. It added that this information should include the speed of service as soon as it is available.

In November both Oxfordshire and Dorset county councils turned down independent projects in favour of further expanding BT’s grip on Britain’s broadband infrastructure. Scores of small companies have complained that they stand no chance of competing with BT for rural broadband projects.

“The Government has failed to deliver meaningful competition in the procurement of its £1.2 billion rural broadband programme, leaving BT effectively in a monopoly position,” said public accounts committee chair Margaret Hodge.

Hodge has maintained a hard line against the Government and BT, adding that if BT and DCMS didn’t make “significant progress” on its recommendations then the committee would have no choice but to call for a further hearing.

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