CWU union defends BT over rural broadband criticisms

The communications union, CWU has said that BT is being unfairly blamed for winning all the contracts that the government is awarding for the building of a rural broadband infrastructure.

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The communications union, CWU, has said that BT is being unfairly blamed for winning all the contracts that the government is awarding for the building of a rural broadband infrastructure.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee this week accused the government of mismanaging the rollout of superfast broadband in the hard-to-reach areas of the UK, which MPs have said has resulted in BT having a ‘quasi-monopolistic’ position on the project.

Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary of CWU, said: “The fact is that BT was the only company prepared to make the investment required to deliver fast broadband services to rural areas.

“Despite the public money it is receiving, BT’s decision to participate in this vital national project represents a significant investment at BT’s own risk, which is not expected to see a return for a number of years.”

Under the rural broadband programme, the government was meant to encourage private companies to competitively roll out broadband connectivity to 90 percent of the UK’s rural areas by providing subsidies. However, BT and Fujitsu were the only two suppliers bidding for 44 contracts, because smaller suppliers - unable to take advantage of economies of scale - found it too expensive to take part.

Since bidding began, BT has won all 26 contracts tendered as of June 2013 and is likely to win the remaining 18 following the announcement by Fujitsu in March that it was pulling out of any further bids.

BT has invested £356 million in the project, and will benefit from the government’s initial subsidy of £230 million, with a further £250 due to follow. The remainder of the available £1.2 billion of public money - £730 million - has been provided by local authorities.

Meanwhile, Kerr highlighted the fact that BT is creating thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships through delivery of the contracts.

“You have to wonder what the Public Accounts Committee actually want of BT. The stark truth is that without BT’s commitment to invest, the long-overdue efforts to bring high-speed broadband to the rural communities and businesses crying out for such services would be in tatters,” he said.

"Rather than bashing the one company that is investing its own money into projects that are vital for the general good of the country and creating thousands of skilled jobs in the process, we should be asking one very simple question: why have BT's competitors decided not to risk making investments of their own - relying on BT's investment to take their own services to rural areas?"