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BT fights back in Isle of Wight superfast broadband feud

BT has fought back against the Isle of Wight’s plans to sit on its superfast broadband project. 

Last week we heard that councillors had planned to push the pause button on plans that would have seen 99 per cent of the island getting connected to superfast broadband by BT. 

Councillors apparently wanted more time to deliberate and consider if the money that would be given to BT – the last eligible bidder in the BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) process – could be better spent elsewhere. 

This has clearly got BT’s hackles up and managing director for Next Generation Access Bill Murphy has issued an open letter to the Council, criticising their choice to sit and wait. 

BT fights back in Isle of Wight superfast broadband feud
BT defends its model for the Isle of Wight

In the letter Murphy addresses a specific beef, that project’s value for money. In his eyes, it’s win-win for the Council:  

“The government has stipulated a gap funding model – the provider pays the economically viable cost and public funding covers the remainder. The proposed contract also has a “clawback” clause, so that if the take-up of the service is higher than expected, money will be returned to the council. The council then has the option to invest that money to increase coverage. If take-up is lower than expected, any losses are borne solely by BT.”

That last point should be of interest to the Council, which is already aiming to provide 99 per cent coverage. Any extra cash clawed back could be used for a final push that would see every property on the island connected to BT’s next-gen fibre-based network.

In terms of choice, Murphy points to the fact that over 80 ISPs sell services on the Openreach network and warns that other providers won’t be able to provide the same level of choice:  

“Competition amongst service providers is essential to attract customers and deliver a sustainable service. Schemes which have struggled to achieve this competitive market for consumers have already resulted in costly failures.”   

The relatively small scale of the island means that it stands to have all work done before many other BDUK projects across the UK. Most other projects are looking to get between 90-95 per cent with those in the remaining areas left to contend with not exactly fantastic 2Mbps connections.

BDUK has been set up to ensure that families and firms in remote regions can benefit from upgrades to BT’s network. In most cases, this sees FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) deployed, which can provide speeds of up to 80Mbps. A handful of spaces will also get FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) which provides a much faster speeds and a more reliable connection. 

Six exchanges across the Isle of Wight have already been upgraded under BT’s own £2.5 billion investment plan and ten more stand to be upgraded. Right now, 37,000 locations can access fibre-based broadband on the Openreach network. Under the BDUK plan, 20,000 extra premises are in line to benefit from superfast connections. 

The BDUK process has been criticised for being too favourable to BT, to the point where all other bidders for the regional contracts dropped out. BT has also come under fire for withhold information on where the non-superfast ‘10 per cent’ resided, denying the opportunity for alternative providers to get the job done under their own steam. 

BT has insisted that it up to local authorities to reveal this information and culture secretary Maria Miller has acted accordingly, threatening to put the brakes on any extra funding for councils may want to connect those remaining in the 10 per cent. 

Isle of Wight councillors will meet again on September 10 to discuss their options and review the BDUK plan. 


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