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INCA: Let alternative providers compete with BT for broadband cash

Friday, August 21st 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Money being reinvested in the government’s superfast broadband rollout should be made available to alternative providers as well as to BT, the head of a network co-operative has said.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA), which represents more than 55 alternative broadband suppliers, said the cash should be put to competitive tender, allowing ‘altnets’ to play a part in taking superfast speeds to hard-to-reach areas.

Last month BT announced that it was making up to £129m available to local authorities to reinvest in superfast projects.

The extra cash is the result of a clause in Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) contracts that says if take-up is better than BT’s original business case of 20%, funding it has received should be returned or reinvested.

But Mr Corbett said local authorities should seek competitive responses from BT and a range of alternative suppliers rather than simply handing the cash to the telecoms giant.

“INCA represents a wide range of alternative suppliers, and many are already making excellent progress delivering super and ultrafast broadband services in urban and rural areas," he said.

“Increasingly, government and BDUK see these suppliers as forming an important part of the mix for maximising coverage and achieving the best possible value for money for local broadband schemes.”

Investment from alternative providers often requires less public subsidy, and regularly needs no public funding at all, he said.

“This is in part due to their local knowledge of the community and geography, as well as the fact that they can be far more flexible in their approach and commit private investment to areas that BT finds challenging.

'Digitally-deprived'

“In many of our towns, cities and rural areas, alternative suppliers including Gigaclear, Hyperoptic, ITS Technology, CityFibre and UK Broadband are building new ultrafast and superfast networks with great success, creating the digital infrastructure necessary to help our businesses and economy thrive."

They often work with other providers and community schemes such as B4RN, Fibre GarDen and Cybermoor, he said.

Mr Corbett added: “It is unacceptable that many urban areas, in addition to the well-publicised rural notspots, still suffer from poor broadband.

“It is the alternative providers that are often willing to invest in digitally-deprived areas when others would prefer to wait for a subsidy to materialise.”

INCA said a recent survey of its membership revealed that more than 1m premises can already connect to infrastructure built, owned and managed by the firms that responded, a figure set to rise to 10m over the next few years.

“Partnerships between alternative providers, local authorities and community schemes can often pay real dividends,” Mr Corbett said, citing a deal between the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and ITS Technology to run fibre through existing CCTV ducts on a concession basis.

“INCA is providing a platform for these alternative providers to collaborate and strike up partnerships that will improve the UK’s digital infrastructure, and in turn help improve the UK’s economic performance.

“It is by engaging the independent, competitive sector that coverage can be extended further and more quickly, with the maximum value for taxpayers’ and investors’ money, and to the benefit of the end-user.”

The issue is set to form part of the agenda at INCA’s Transform Digital: Bristol Conference next month, which will be attended by BDUK head Chris Townsend as well as representatives from local authorities, BT, Vodafone, Virgin Media and independent providers.

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