BT, Fujitsu Sign BDUK Broadband Contracts

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

Follow on: Google +

BT and Fujitsu have been officially authorised as suppliers under the government’s broadband rollout scheme, according to reports, as the CLA expresses doubts that BDUK will reach its targets

BT and Fujitsu have signed contracts to supply broadband under the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework, a step allowing local authorities to begin their tendering processes, according to local media reports.

The move comes amid criticism of the sluggishness of the broadband programme, which was announced by the previous Labour government in July 2010. In the latest criticism, the Country Land and Business Alliance (CLA) warned on Tuesday that the government is unlikely to hit its broadband targets due to the bureaucratic nature of the procurement process and an over-reliance on fibre-optic technology.

Ed Vaizey MP and others are to report before a parlaimentary select committee on BDUK’s progress on Tuesday morning.

Broadband bandwagon

BDUK is allocating £530m of government funding to help bring broadband to the one-third of UK premises that would not otherwise be served by the broadband market.

The overall target is to give the UK the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015. The government wants to provide superfast broadband to 90 percent of the UK, with a minimum of 2Mbps available to all UK premises.

On Saturday Norfolk newspaper the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) reported that BT and Fujitsu have been authorised under BDUK, and that Norfolk has sent both companies invitations to submit tenders for high-speed broadband projects.

Local Devon newspaper the Western Morning News on Tuesday also reported that BT and Fujitsu have been officially confirmed as BDUK suppliers, allowing the superfast broadband programme for Devon and Somerset to launch its tendering process.

Until now, BDUK had delayed signing contracts because of a disagreement with the European Commission’s Directorate General (DG) for Competition, which has higher targets for European broadband speeds than had been required under BDUK’s rules.

BT and Fujitsu did not immediately respond to TechWeek Europe requests for comment. Fujitsu eventually responded that it was “not yet” making an official announcement.

CLA criticism

The CLA argued that in spite of progress, the government’s reliance on local authorities to carry out their own tendering processes is too inefficient.

“It would be much simpler if the funding was allocated centrally rather than giving it directly to local authorities because they do not have the resource to plan for a superfast broadband network,” said CLA president Harry Cotterell in a statement.

Cotterell said the programme’s requirement for fibre-optic networking technology is also a mistake, arguing it would be more sensible to deploy a “patchwork quilt” of technologies, depending on which is the most appropriate for a given area.

Cotterell added that the CLA is in discussions with the National Farmers Union (NFU) to produce a national broadband wayleave, or right-of-way, agreement, claiming this would create a stable platform for infrastructure providers.

BDUK scrutinised by Parliament

The Select Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on Tuesday morning held a one-off evidence session into BDUK, with plans to discuss the government’s targets, how the project is being funded and the procurement processes being used for individual projects.

Witnesses included ED Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries; Simon Towler, Deputy Director, Department for Culture, Media and Sport; and Robert Sullivan, Chief Executive, Broadband Delivery UK.

The broadband rollout process came under criticism last month after Cumbria County Council rejected bids from both BT and Fujitsu, saying the bids didn’t meed the council’s requirements.

The council said it has renewed negotiations and plans to make a final decision in September.

Update: A Fujitsu spokesman said the company has “not yet” made an official announcement on its relationship with BDUK.

Are you a Skype champion? Take our quiz.