The UK government has today hailed the completion of its superfast broadband project as a success – the scheme that has now brought 24Mbps to 95 per cent of the country by almost entirely handing the contracts to monopoly provider BT.
Clive Selley, CEO of BT's broadband infrastructure division Openreach, described the milestone as "one of Britain's great engineering achievements".
It's true that the final phase of the £1.7bn project has come in more or less on time (it was due to be complete by the end of 2017) and under budget thanks to its clawback clause, which required BT to hand back part of the public investment if take-up increased.
However, the government was heavily criticised for having propped up BT by handing the vast majority of contracts to the former state monopoly for the first 90 per cent coverage goal.
Margaret Hodge, former head of the Public Accounts Committee, had said the deal "represented extremely poor value for money for the taxpayer".
Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association, told MPs that BT had acted like a "vampire death squid" because of its alleged bullying tactics to local authorities – something the telco naturally denied. In the 2013 hearing it had also emerged that the former state monopoly, which at that point had won every contract, was running two years late with the programme.
Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com, said the 95 per cent milestone was important, but is still just another step towards the ultimate goal of superfast broadband for all.
"The shift towards full fibre and ultrafast broadband is gaining momentum so it's important the remaining 5 per cent becomes 2 per cent in the next couple of years and subsequently an even smaller number. Those who still have slow broadband are becoming more worried about being left behind, especially with the new full fibre promises making headlines every week."
Culture secretary Matt Hancock said: "Over the last five years, the government's rollout of superfast broadband has made superfast speeds a reality for more than 4.5 million homes and businesses who would otherwise have missed out.
"We've delivered on our commitment to reach 95 per cent of homes and businesses in the UK, but there's still more to do in our work building a Britain that's fit for the future.
"We're reaching thousands more premises every single week, and the next commitment is to making affordable, reliable, high speed broadband a legal right to everyone by 2020." ®