‘Value for money’ broadband warning in Midhurst

Town councillor Gordon McAra C101184-1 Photo Louise Adams
Town councillor Gordon McAra C101184-1 Photo Louise Adams

WEST Sussex County Council (WSCC) must ensure it gets ‘real value for money’ from BT in the deal for superfast broadband.

The warning comes from Midhurst’s county councillor, Gordon McAra a campaigner for faster broadband across the rural area.

Local authorities were contributing more than £230m to the rural broadband upgrade and WSCC’s contribution was more than £7m, he said: “So it is not as if the project is underfunded.”

BT have been accused by MPs of being in a ‘quasi-monopolistic’ position in rolling-out rural broadband as well as restricting access to information on costs and the roll-out programme.

“If that is the case,” warned Cllr McAra, “the county council must ensure it gets real value for the money it is contributing to rural broadband and that BT meets its targets.”

There were three telephone exchanges in the county that did not even offer their customers any form of broadband, including Plaistow and East Marden, said Cllr McAra. “Those without any service at all should be first in the queue. I’ve tried to get information on BT’s programme for West Sussex, but with no success.”

He said all parish councils in his area had expressed their concerns: “I have particularly received complaints from Elsted villagers who are ‘connected’ to the East Marden exchange and have absolutely no facilities other than a basic phone line.

“The Midhurst division covers a massive area and there are hundreds of premises where the lack of decent broadband is a real issue.”

In July, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) found taxpayers were at risk of being overcharged on a delayed £1.2bn scheme to install high-speed broadband in rural areas after ministers handed a monopoly to BT.

The NAO said a target of 90 per cent coverage across the country by May, 2015 would be missed by almost two years. The government had also failed to protect value for money through competition.

“The rural broadband project is moving forward late and without the benefit of strong competition to protect public value,” said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO. But BT has insisted it is ‘delivering excellent value for money’.

The NAO said this was hard to judge because the company kept officials in the dark over 64 per cent of the cost of delivering each project. “There was strong competition when prices were set at the start of the process and that has ensured counties have benefited from the best possible terms,” a BT spokesman said.

Margaret Hodge, chairman of the public accounts committee, said consumers would have to rely on Ofcom to ensure BT did not make ‘super profits’ from its dominant position.