The proposed expansion of the UK’s high speed broadband infrastructure might now be delayed, following reports that the European Commission has expressed concern over the uncompetitive nature of the contracts drawn up between the UK government and network developers.
Under the government’s plans, £830 million has been earmarked to try to ensure that superfast broadband reaches outlying areas of the country which might otherwise prove to be insufficiently economically viable to attract private investment.
The European Commission, however, is understood to have questioned whether the government’s choices of BT and Fujitsu to carry out the physical architecture and cable layout needed under the scheme – and the nature of its agreement with these two companies – comply with EU competition law.
The Commission is believed to be particularly concerned over the fairness of allotting public funds to a major operator such as BT without a correspondingly high level of financial input from BT in return.
It is also understood that the Commission is pressing for rivals to BT to be given open access to its infrastructure in order to be able to lay down their own cabling.
As a result of the Commission’s intervention, work on the national broadband project is expected to be delayed by at least six months whilst high level talks take place between the Commission and UK government.
The government’s original target for the completion of the broadband layout scheme was 2015.
News of the delay is likely to prove frustrating for councils and businesses in rural areas and other locations where high speed broadband is not yet available, given the general recognition that such infrastructure is now essential for economic success.
As well as providing firms quality communications facilities, high speed broadband can also help secure access to IP telephony and business VoIP, which can increase the flexibility and efficiency of business phone systems, whilst reducing phone costs.