The UK government’s plan to extend broadband connectivity to rural parts of the country is running almost two years behind schedule, according to a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO).
In a statement that is hugely critical of the broadband plans and their execution, the NAO said the plan to make broadband available to 90% of the country is likely to be completed some 22 months later than its original deadline of May 2015, with only nine out of 44 local projects reaching their coverage targets by that date.
One problem was that gaining approval for the project under EU State aid rules took six months longer than expected, forcing the government to revise its target to December 2016.
The NAO also attacked the design of the competitive framework, which, it said, led to suppliers withdrawing from the bidding process, leaving UK incumbent BT as the only active participant and likely to win all 44 projects.
The report also expresses concern about the lack of transparency over costs, saying the NAO does not have strong assurance that costs, take-up assumptions and the “extent of contingency” in BT’s bids are reasonable.
“The rural broadband project is moving forward late and without the benefit of strong competition to protect public value,” said Amyas Morse, the NAO’s head.
The NAO also says that project funding contributed by BT (London, UK) has so far been lower than originally modeled, with the operator now expected to provide just 23% of the £1.5 billion ($2.24 billion) required – some £203 million less than planned in 2011.
“At the same time, by the end of the program, BT is likely to have benefited from £1.2 billion of public money,” said the report.
Japan’s Fujitsu (Tokyo), the only company besides BT that appeared to be in the running for contracts, was in March reported to have pulled out of bidding for the funds.