UK.gov's £530m bumpkin broadband rollout: 'Train crash waiting to happen'

Whitehall whispers of damning watchdog report next month


The UK government's ploughing of taxpayers' cash into deploying countryside broadband networks has been branded a "train crash waiting to happen".

That's the view of a well-placed Whitehall insider who revealed that Blighty's public spending watchdog will next month publish a scathing report into the crashingly expensive internet rollout project.

According to the Financial Times, which cites a source close to the process, the National Audit Office (NAO) will criticise the Department for Culture, Media and Sport over competition and transparency concerns relating to the £530m government subsidy set aside for Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK).

BT has been the only successful bidder for the public dosh to install the rural broadband lines and thus reach the sticks it wouldn't otherwise bother with; Japanese tech giant Fujitsu withdrew from chasing the funds earlier this year.

The Pink 'Un's source said that the NAO would be "critical of the structure created" for the BDUK project because it was hard for the watchdog to judge whether awarding all the contracts to BT was good value for money.

"It is certainly a train crash waiting to happen, and that train appears to be accelerating rather than slowing down," the anonymous tipster told the FT.

The public accounts committee, chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, is expected to scrutinise the report and haul in BT's execs to discuss the broadband rollout's progress.

As The Register has repeatedly noted, many of BT's contracts won't be completed until 2016 even though the government set its broadband delivery project an ambitious target for 2015: ministers wanted every Brit to be able to enjoy home internet download speeds of at least 2Mbit/s by 2015, the final year of the current parliamentary term.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller insisted in April that the government would meet its self-imposed deadline even though broadband minister Ed Vaizey's rhetoric has changed from bullish to feeble about the rate at which BT is extending its network into the UK's countryside.

He blamed Brussels' red-tape over competition concerns for stalling the process and making the 2015 target more challenging to meet, even though the European Commission - which blamed the British government for the delay - eventually waved through the BDUK project.

BT today said:

We are contractually committed to ensuring the costs we incur in broadband partnerships are consistent with our own commercial costs, and we are also reinvesting savings to go further when we can.

The Ministry of Fun, meanwhile, has long since backed off from saying outright that Blighty will have the "best" superfast network in Europe by 2015. Now the best it can do is talk up a "transformation" in broadband for British citizens.

Last month, the UK's Major Projects Authority flagged up the BDUK project as a government programme that was at risk of not being delivered on time. ®

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