What's happening elsewhere
Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is the body set up under the Department of Culture Media and Sport, to bring fast fibre broadband to 90% of the UK population by 2015. That target was probably set to coincide with the 2015 General Election, but like so many UK Government IT projects it has already slipped seriously and has been revised to 90% by the end of 2016, which effectively means 2017 (2 years later than planned - see estimated progress graph from BDUK)
BDUK is spending £530M of public money to bring this about and has been heavily criticised by the National Audit Office and the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee for the mismanagement of public funds. As is so often the case however, nothing changes, the project slips, does not deliver on its targets, but in true British style, civil servants adopt the stiff upper lip and carry on. For the country that produced Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, this would be farcical, if it wasn't for the fact that whilst we bumble around trying to catch up, countries like Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and China march ahead with broadband speeds we can't even dream of (150Mpbs to 300Mbps).
Of the £530M being spent by BDUK, the Connecting Devon and Somerset project is by far the single biggest project in the UK, consuming £33.72M of BDUK's budget. All 26 projects awarded by BDUK up until June 2013 went to BT and BT are expected to be awarded the remaining 18, after a supposedly competitive bidding process. In many cases BT was the only bidder, as in Devon and Somerset. Interesting definition of competitive tendering!
In Devon & Somerset, the £33.72M was topped up with £10M from each of the two County Councils (out of Council Tax), making a total of £53.72M of public money invested in the project when Devon & Somerset County Councils signed the contract with BT in January 2013. BT put £41M into the project making a total investment of £94M.
Now one would think that as a majority (57%) stakeholder in this project, the two County Councils would have close oversight of this project and ensure clear accountability to their electors for the expenditure of this money. We will never know, because all parties involved in the contract have been required by BT to sign a Non Dislcosure Agreement forbidding them from divulging any information about the contract. East Devon and South Somerset District Councils, who refused to sign the Non Disclosure Agreement, have set up a Joint Scrutiny Panel to investigate the project and plan to produce a report by the end of February 2014.
The other BDUK Superfast Broadband Projects appear to be clouded in mystery, just as the Devon & Somerset project is with Non Disclosure Agreements preventing the public from knowing what BT are doing with the public money they are spending.
For instance, in Shropshire, there is a Connecting Shropshire project funded with £7.84M from BDUK and managed by the Unitary Shropshire Council who signed a contract with BT for the delivery of faster fibre broadband.
In August this year, Connecting Shropshire published a map showing who would and would not get faster broadband.
Does it look familiar?
Just like the map on the CDS website it is a low resolution map which is difficult to interpret at parish and village level and does not show exchange areas.
Again, BT have used a Non Disclosure agreement to prevent the Council from divulging any detailed information and the South-west Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband has been set up by local people who are trying to get more information which they are prevented from knowing by the Non Disclosure Agreement.
The full list of faster broadband projects funded by BDUK can be viewed at Table of BDUK funded Broadband Projects From this table you can follow links to broadband roll out plans in other counties where you will find similar limited information available, BT being the only supplier and Councils gagged by Non Disclosure Agreements.
As already stated, Connecting Devon and Somerset is the largest single broadband project funded by BDUK in England spending £53,000,000 of public money.
Computer weekly are keeping an updated list of all BDUK contracts and using freedom of information requests they are updating the article as information becomes available. See Computer Weekly BDUK Broadband
Ofcom publish a map of the UK showing what broadband services are like county by county. According to these Ofcom maps, the take up of broadband in Devon and Somerset is that between 70% and 80%of all properties have a broadband connection, but that "superfast" broadband is only available to 30% of premises. The maps also say that only 15% to 20% of premises have speeds less than 2.2Mbps.
Cornwall is an interesting case, because unlike all other UK Counties it qualified for direct funding from the EU for broadband, which it started on in 2010 (2 years before any other UK County) See http://www.superfastcornwall.org/ As a result, Cornwall now has one of the highest levels of FTTC broadband services iin the UK with fibre connectivity levels in many rural areas already over 80%. Satellite broadband is also offered in Cornwall, but it is only seen as a solution for remote farms (Not whole parishes on major trunk roads, as in Devon), and the Superfastcornwall website warns users that satellite is not suitable for interactive broadband use such as Skype !!!
Question: When is "superfast" not "superfast"?..........Answer: When it is delivered by BT:
CDS and BDUK make many references to "Superfast" broadband. You may think that this is simply a way of saying that fibre broadband is much faster than ADSL copper wire broadband. Not so: The EU from whom some of the £530M that BDUK are spending on these projects comes, have defined Superfast to mean download speeds >30Mbps. In the UK however BT have quietly redefined this to mean download speeds >24Mbps, and this enables BT and BDUK to claim they are delivering "superfast" broadband at speeds which are 20% slower than those in the rest of Europe..........what a fiddle!
And what's being planned outside the UK?........
Denmark plans 100Mbps for all by 2020
Estonia wants 100Mbps for everyone by 2015
France plans almost universal coverage at 100Mbps by 2020
Germany expects to have 70% coverage at 50 Mbps by 2014
Greece wants 100% of citizens to have 30Mbps access by 2020
Ireland plans 100Mbps for all by 2020
Italy wants wants half its citizens to have access to 100Mbps by 2020
And the UK's target is for 90% of people to have access to the lower speed of 24Mbps
........Source: BBC September 26, 2013, when MP's said "The UK Broadband roll out is ripping off taxpayers".
Do any Government IT projects ever deliver what they are supposed to, in this country?
Sadly the answer to this is probably no and what is worse, they often involve many £millions of public money being wasted without anybody taking responsibility or even learning from them.
Most recently, November 7, the governments IT project to support the Universal Credit system in the Department of Work and Pensions is reported to have lost £140M of public money. See Univeral Credit Waste
If you drive down to the M5 in Taunton and go via Chestnut Drive and Blackbrook Way to get to the M5, you will pass a big box shaped building on the right that has more closed circuit TV cameras on it than any other around. This was the "Fire Control Centre" for the south west. A scheme devised by the man with two jags, John (now Lord) Prescott, it was an IT fiasco which built the buildings and ordered the IT equipment and software but never checked to see that the users (Fire Brigades) could actually operate from it. In 2011 the Public Accounts Committee concluded that £469M of public money was wasted on Prescott's scheme and today 6 buildings such as the one in Taunton sit empty, costing more £millions to mothball because the government cannot sell them. (In the meantime the Fire Service are stuck with outdated systems in crumbling local control centres)
Have you heard the looming fiasco on Smart Meters? - these have been in use in many European countries for years, with detailed information on each customers energy consumption being sent back to the electricity companies down the power distribution lines. Seems a straightforward thing to do doesn't it.......but not in this country!. Gold plating the original requirement from the EU to implement such systems, the Department of Energy and Climate Change are rolling out a £4.9B programme to install smart meters in all UK properties but not by sending information down the existing power cables, but by using the mobile phone network instead. This will in effect require a mobile phone to be installed in every electricity/gas meter...and yes you guessed it, another government IT project. Because of the cost it is already being suggested that we will all have to pay an extra levy on our electricity bills to pay for the equipment and the IT systems (if they ever work).
Why is it not possible to learn from these screw-ups? Nobody ever takes the can for them and they get repeated over and over again. In the meantime you can guess who pays for cleaning up the mess? YOU.