MPs Bash BT In BDUK Bust-Up

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

BT stunned by MP claims it is blackmailing the general public and bullying local authorities involved in broadband project

MPs lambasted BT today over its role in the Broadband Development UK (BDUK) project, which itself took a bashing for delays and process failures.

BT was accused by Margaret Hodge MP of effectively blackmailing the general public by saying it would only go into rural areas where it did not have commercial reasons for doing so only if it received taxpayers’, or government, funding. BDUK, an arm of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, provides such extra funding from a £530 million pot.

The claims came during a Public Accounts Committee hearing in the House of Commons today, where BT was also told it was a bully, for the way in which it treated others involved in the BDUK initiative.

BT Olympic 1BT ‘a vampire death squid’

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association, who was sitting on the panel alongside BT director of strategy Sean Williams, said BT was acting like a “vampire death squid”.

Corbett and others suggested BT was targeting local broadband initiatives by threatening not to bring fibre to rural areas where backing had been voiced for local projects.

BT has already been accused of being a monopolist, as many have pointed to its total dominance of BDUK-associated deals, of which it has won all of them. There are now no other bidders beside BT, so it looks set to sweep up the remaining deals with local councils.

As recently claimed in a scathing report from the National Audit Office, the BDUK project was said to be 22 months behind schedule. But Williams said BT still expects the UK to meet its target of having the best broadband in Europe by 2015.

Overall fibre is supposed to reach 90 percent of the nation via BT infrastructure, with the final 10 percent coming from local initiatives. But BT was also alleged to have witheld details on where that 10 percent is from community bodies.

Williams said it was up to the local councils to decide how they share such information.

Hodge, chair of the committee, described the way BT was acting as an “outrage”. But BT has bitten back, saying it was shocked at the accusations being levelled at it.

“BT is investing billions of pounds to radically improve the UK’s broadband network whilst ensuring all companies have access to it on an equal basis,” a spokesperson said, in an emailed statement sent to TechWeekEurope..

“We are therefore shocked and mystified by some of the ill informed comments played back by members of the committee today. Deploying fibre broadband is a complex long-term investment but that was ignored today as MPs prioritised soundbites over analysis.”

Yet onlookers remain unconvinced by BT’s protestations. “We are glad to see that the NAO report facilitated this much needed scrutiny of the bduk program which is in effect solidifying BT dominance as a monopolistic incumbent,” Dominique Lazanski, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, told TechWeek.

“Going forward we hope that the entire program is looked at and analysed before further contracts are awarded. We also hope that this hearing will open a reevaluation of the current market regulation.”

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