BT might be the only one going for BDUK funds in Cumbria as Fujitsu pulls out, but it could still lose out
Fujitsu has backed out of its Broadband Development UK (BDUK) bid in Cumbria, but even though BT is the only bidder left, it may still miss out on getting the funding, TechWeekEurope understands.
BT and Fujitsu were told to go away and fix their bids by Cumbria County Council in June, as the local authority decided they did not adequately meet the tender requirements of its BDUK-based contract. BDUK is the government’s £530 million project to get superfast broadband out to remote parts of the country.
“We withdrew from Cumbria because we cannot currently see a clear path towards a mass market that is required to attract leading retail service providers. We continue to monitor the market place and see where we can get this to make sense,” said Duncan Tait CEO, Fujitsu UK & Ireland, in a statement first sent to the Financial Times and then to TechWeekEurope.
“We will look at each on its own merits and see if there is a way to make it work and get to the scale we need for our anchor tenants.”
A North Yorkshire County Council spokesperson said the local authority was not going to comment on the matter until it makes an official announcement on which bidder has got the contract. “That will be next Tuesday at the earliest,” he added.
Losing a one horse race?
Cumbria said it was “not certain” BT would get its funding, even though no other providers are bidding. “Cabinet will still make a decision in September which will either be to go with BT as the final supplier or not to select,” a spokesperson said. “At the moment we are in commercially sensitive discussions. Other options if we didn’t go with BT will be outlined in the Cabinet report in September.”
“Although today’s news is disappointing for us we completely understand Fujitsu’s reasons, particularly as these are national rather than specific to Cumbria,” added Councillor Elizabeth Mallinson, Cabinet member with responsibility for Connecting Cumbria. “We will now focus our resources to complete the process in order to secure an outcome which meets the needs of Cumbria and its communities.”
“Others … have seemingly decided to cherry pick by focusing on the areas that are easiest to reach,” a spokesperson said.
Meanwhil, the BDUK process looks like coming unstuck thanks to reported European Commission objections. The Commission’s main concern is around the lack of competition, with BT currently the only vendor to have secured BDUK funds so far.
Earlier this month, it emerged BT and Fujitsu would most likely be the only providers to build superfast infrastructure in rural parts of the UK, after signing a Framework Agreement with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is responsible for running BDUK.
That framework has been developed to offer councils a quick way of getting through the procurement process, but only allows them to hand contracts to BT or Fujitsu. If they want to use other providers, they have to set up their own procurement process and hope the government will back it with BDUK funds.
According to a TechWeekEurope source with knowledge of the matter, the EU is also worried about broadband speeds in the UK. The government has said that whilst it would like BDUK projects to aim for up to 30Mbps speeds, any initiative that is already in the works and is aiming for 24Mbps or above will be given the green light. “Europe is taking ever increasing close look at this,” the source said.
Fujitsu is also pressuring BT to open up its dark fibre to other communications providers in rural areas, the source claimed. Dark fibre is the unconnected or spare infrastructure that can be “lit up” to provide superfast access.
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