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Fibre funding: BT wins Yorkshire deal, Worcestershire moans

BT has secured a contract to provide fibre infrastructure in North Yorkshire, in a project tapping into money from the UK's rural broadband (BDUK) fund — but other county councils are struggling to get the projects moving
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

BT has won a contract to roll out its fibre infrastructure to homes and businesses in North Yorkshire, in a £36m project that uses government rural broadband funding for the first time.

BT sign
BT has won a contract to roll out fibre infrastructure to North Yorkshire. Image credit: BT

The UK telecoms incumbent said on Tuesday it has signed the deal under the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) framework, which makes the county the first to deploy the funding. The project will install fibre in 'non-commercial' areas, where the potential financial rewards are seen as too limited to attract investment in super-fast broadband efforts without government help.

"North Yorkshire is a large rural county with many remote premises. As a result, deploying broadband is a particular challenge," Carl Les, deputy leader of North Yorkshire County Council, said in a statement.

"We believe the technology is vital to our economic future however and so we are delighted to have signed this agreement. The project will help local businesses to be competitive and ensure they remain in the county," he added.

BDUK rollout

Under terms of the BDUK scheme, each county is allocated a certain amount of money that it must then match with private investment before the public money can be unlocked and actually given to the councils.

BT is contributing £10m, while the council is putting in its £17.8m share of BDUK funds. The remaining £8.6m will come from the European Regional Development Fund. BT's investment in the BDUK project is separate from another £23m that the company has pledged to spend rolling out its fibre services in the region.

The project aims to provide 90 percent of North Yorkshire's homes and businesses — around 365,000 premises — with broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps by the end of 2014. The remaining 10 percent of the county's premises should get connectivity of 2Mbps or more by the same date, in line with the government's broadband roadmap. Currently, around 17 percent of the county has a download speed of less than 2Mbps.

While the majority of the rollout will be made up of fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) technology — which uses copper for the final connection between the cabinet and the premises — BT said it will also use fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) for "certain areas". The FTTP technology will allow download speeds of up to 330Mbps, and will be available to all premises within its fibre footprint on demand, according to the company.

'Gross underestimation'

However, while BT and North Yorkshire County Council are happy about the deal, other councils have said that the timescale given to achieve BDUK funding plans are wholly unrealistic.

"There's been a gross underestimation of the time it will take to get this funding. We are talking hundreds of millions which has been allocated under BDUK, but it hasn't been approved," Ken Pollock, chairman of Worcestershire County Council, told Worcester News on Monday.

"There's been a gross underestimation of the time it will take to get this funding" – Ken Pollock, Worcestershire County Council

"An awful lot of excitement has been generated among parishioners in rural parts of Worcestershire, but there's been a gross miscalculation," he added.

Worcestershire County Council has been allocated £3.35m of BDUK funding, but it has been prevented from moving ahead with its super-fast broadband plans because of an EU investigation, according to the report. The EU's Competition Commission is looking into the scheme because just two main companies are bidding for many of the tenders in the UK: BT and Fujitsu.

While Fujitsu has taken an active part in the BDUK bidding so far, it said on 11 July that it has withdrawn its bid from Cumbria, leaving BT as the sole remaining supplier in that area. However, Fujitsu did say it will continue to put forward tenders.

There are now a number of regions in which BT is either the chosen supplier or only remaining bidder, including the Highlands and Islands, Cumbria, Wales, North Yorkshire, Rutland and Lancashire.

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