MPs criticise BT's monopoly of rural broadband rollout
Report says government failed to ensure competition when allocating public money for broadband contracts
MPS have criticised the rural broadband rollout, saying the government failed to ensure proper competition by awarding all 26 contracts to BT.
The commons Public Accounts Committee accused the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of giving away public money without proper checks, reports the BBC.
The project, created to ensure that those living in rural areas had access to quicker broadband speeds, has suffered from huge delays and is now due to be completed in 2017 – two years later than intended.
As there is little commercial interest in big internet providers spreading broadband to sparsely populated areas, the government decided to offer incentives to do so. In 2011 the government announced it would be awarding £230m contracts on a county-by-county basis, with an extra £250m available after 2015.
Only Fujitsu and BT bid for the contracts and Fujitsu later withdrew, meaning BT was awarded the first 26 contracts and is expected to win the remaining 18.
In the reports the PAC criticised the broadband programme for failing to deliver the intended competition for contracts, "with the result that BT has strengthened its already strong position in the market."
BT has refused to reveal costs to civil servants or coverage to local councils. According to the PAC, this information is crucial in guaranteeing that BT's bids are reasonably priced and fair for the public. MPs added that this has also prevented other suppliers from developing schemes to cover the remaining 10 per cent.
"Local authorities are contributing over £230m more to the programme than the department assumed in its 2011 business case and BT over £200m less, yet BT will ultimately benefit from £1.2bn of public funding."
However, the government defended the process and insisted it had encouraged different suppliers to bid. "We are disappointed that the PAC fails to recognise that thousands of rural premises who have never had a decent broadband supply are now getting one," the DCMS said.
BT said it was "disturbed" by a report that was "simply wrong". It added: "We have been transparent from the start and willing to invest when others have not. ·