National Audit Office Exposes Problems With BDUK Rural Broadband

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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A July report will question whether the rural broadband roll-out scheme provides value for money

The National Audit Office (NAO), the independent body responsible for monitoring UK government departments and agencies, is set to criticise Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and question whether it provides value for money, in a report to be published next month.

The £1 billion project that aims to connect 12 million rural households to the Internet and make sure the UK residents enjoy “the best broadband in Europe” has been branded a “train crash waiting to happen” due to lack of competition in its delivery. However, it might be already too late to make serious changes to the way BDUK is implemented.

Judgement time

According to BDUK guidelines, in three years at least 90 percent of premises in the UK should have access to fibre broadband, while the rest should be connected to a network capable of at least 2Mbps. Half of the £1 billion funding required for the roll-out is provided by the central government, and half by local authorities.

Broadband © Kirill__M, Shutterstock 2012The investigation into the way BDUK operates began after The Telegraph published a story in which it accused BT of inflating the prices for broadband connections, something the network provider vehemently denies.

BT has won every single BDUK contract so far – and is the only remaining bidder, after Fujitsu withdrew from the programme, complaining that the competition wasn’t fair. Several smaller companies have also expressed their disappointment at not being able to bid on contracts.

However, it is likely that BT is already too involved in the programme, and cancelling any contracts or altering the terms would cost the government too much. The network operator could appear before NAO to discuss the findings of the report in mid-July.

“I understand that NAO is deeply critical of the approach taken by DCMS [Department For Culture, Media and Sport] – it will give the Public Accounts Committee all the hooks they need to investigate more wisely,” a source told The Telegraph.

DCMS has also commissioned its own report to establish whether the programme was serving its purpose and spending the taxpayers’ money well. “From the very start we have built multiple controls into our contracts to ensure value for money, including independent assessments, robust accounting and clawback clauses,” said a statement from the Department.

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