MP tells Vaizey to "pull finger out" on broadband

Delays to pilot schemes put Britain's broadband roadmap at risk

Stewart Mitchell
9 Feb 2011

MPs and industry officials are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress with four pilot schemes that are intended to pioneer next-generation broadband in the UK.

Last October, the Government named four remote areas of the country that were intended to “establish the commercial costs and challenges involved in rolling out superfast broadband across the UK”.

The pilots were part of the Government's plan to spread superfast broadband to areas of the UK expected to be left in the slow lane by market forces, in line with promises to provide the UK with the "best broadband in Europe by 2015".

But more than three and a half months after the pilot schemes were announced, the projects have yet to even be put out to tender, leading politicians to question the likelihood of meeting those goals.

I'm trying to press the Government to pull its finger out and get this moving as quickly as possible

“You've got to start from the premise that these are pilot projects that were announced in October and there's only four or them,” said Ian Lucas, Labour MP for Wrexham.

“Before we can make any progress, the pilot projects have to be commenced and assessed. At the moment they haven't even been tendered for, let alone commenced.”

Lucas has been pressing broadband minister Ed Vaizey for more details on the roadmap following complaints from the internet industry that it has been left in the dark while Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the Government organisation charged with next-generation rollout, ponders the options.

“What I'm picking up from industry is that they are becoming impatient over the length of time that it is taking – these are very large companies that are becoming very frustrated,” said Lucas.

“I'm trying to press the Government to pull its finger out and get this moving as quickly as possible. No progress can be made as the particulars of the trials haven't been specified from the Government.”

"No fixed dates"

Vaizey recently fielded parliamentary questions about the pilot timetables, telling Lucas that: “Broadband Delivery UK is working closely with the local procuring authorities on the timetable for commencing the pilot procurements. No dates are fixed at this time, but will be made public at the earliest opportunity.”

When we contacted Broadband Delivery UK over the delay it admitted industry was waiting for the tenders, but said it would have to wait a while longer. “BDUK is currently working with the pilot projects so that they are ready to start procurement,” the organisation said in a statement.

“Each of the pilots is at a different stage of development, but we expect that the first of these will begin at the end of Q1 or start of Q2 this year.”

With such a timetable in place, BDUK would have spent the first six months of the four-and-a-half year roadmap to European broadband supremacy putting together the tender for the first pilot for the first project.

Second round frustration

The Government is also facing pressure over the fact that Broadband Delivery UK has not yet even published its criteria for local authorities wanting to apply for funding to be involved in the second round of pilots.

Conservative MP Peter Aldous last week asked what date Vaizey expected "the criteria for application to the next round of Broadband UK funding pilots to be published".

Vaizey responded: "No specific date has been set. Broadband Delivery UK is working with local authorities throughout the UK to give them guidance on how to apply for the next round where bids will be invited from April 2011".

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