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Worcestershire Council slams EU for delaying release of broadband funds

The County Council has said that there has been a “gross underestimation” of time it has taken to get hold of the public money

Worcestershire County Council has spoken out against the European Commission, claiming that it is holding up the deployment of superfast broadband in the region, as it awaits approval from Brussels over state aid rules.

The county's local broadband plan has been allocated £3.35 million by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), the government arm that is charged with distributing public funds for fibre rollout, and outlines that the council aims to make superfast broadband, with speeds over 30Mbps, available to 90 percent of the population by 2015.

However, despite having agreed the amount it will receive from the government, it is not able to continue with the deployment until the European Commission rules that the UK is not violating state aid rules.

The UK government has said that it hopes to have the best broadband network in Europe by 2015, and has committed a minimum of £730 million up until 2015 to support the rollout.

Worcestershire County Council chairman, Ken Pollock, is extremely disappointed with the delay, according to Worcester News.

"There has been a gross underestimation of the time it will take to get this funding. We are talking hundreds of millions which has been allocated under BDUK [to the whole of the UK], but it hasn't been approved," said Pollock.

"An awful lot of excitement has been generated among parishioners in rural parts of Worcestershire, but there's been a gross miscalculation."

West Worcestershire MP, Harriett Baldwin, has also slammed the hold-up, saying: "I see no reason why European rules should stop Worcestershire from putting the job out to tender and I have contacted the secretary of state's office to confirm that in writing."

A DCMS spokeswoman told Computerworld UK that the department has been in 'intense negotiations' with the European Commission since January, and hopes to have the funding finalised soon.

"DCMS has agreed with the European Commission that we will put in place an umbrella scheme covering all local broadband projects. This means that one (rather than more than 40) state aid clearance need be obtained from the European Commission," said the spokeswoman.

She added: "Our original notification [to the EC] was in January this year and we have been in intensive negotiation since then. We have provided the Commission with all the information that it has asked for and hope it will be able to give a positive decision shortly."

Once the umbrella scheme is approved, local bodies will be able to apply to BDUK's National Competency Centre directly for confirmation that their local broadband projects comply with the terms of the umbrella scheme and therefore are State aid compliant.

This is the latest blow for BDUK, after Fujitsu pulled out of the bidding process to secure funding from Cumbria County Council to deploy fibre in the area, leaving BT as the last remaining supplier, which raised questions about the competitive nature of the process. Many are concerned that it has favoured BT and the incumbent will end up winning the majority of the contracts.

It was also revealed today that BT has signed a contract with North Yorkshire, the largest rural county in the UK, to deploy fibre to 90 percent of the region. BT will be investing £23 million, bringing the total investment for the area to £70 million.

However, DCMS confirmed to Computerworld UK that the delay from the European Commission was not related to concerns around BT and Fujitsu.


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