After four months of waiting there are now signs that the Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) dispute over UK ISP Gigaclear’s stalled, and significantly delayed, roll-out of “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband in the region might finally be reaching a resolution.
The original contract required Gigaclear to build an entirely new Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network, which would provide access to “superfast broadband” for 41,000 rural homes and businesses across various parts of the two counties by the end of December 2019. This was later extended to June 2020 following Government approval to expand the network to a further 6,810 premises (total of 47,810).
Unfortunately it was revealed last October (here) that Gigaclear’s part of this state aid supported project had fallen “significantly behind schedule” (in some areas by as much as 2 years!) due to “fundamental issues,” not least including a lack of operational capacity, poor decision making within the ISP, slow deployment by contractors, a lack of detailed planning and a failure to redesign the build methodology.
In response the local authorities put Gigaclear on notice of a possible default and withheld further payments. Meanwhile their new owner, Infracapital, confirmed that they’d already made significant changes to correct for the mistakes. The ISP was also ordered to produce a revised roll-out plan, although CDS dismissed their initial submission as lacking credibility due to limited “detail and clarity” (here).
NOTE: Gigaclear also pledged not to scale-back their separate commercially-funded network (c.43,000 premises in the region).
Since then several months have passed without a single update on the situation, although it’s known that one of the “key issues” was whether or not the Government and other partners would be “willing to extend the time in which their funding can be used to subsidise the current contracts with Gigaclear” (existing funding must be spent by March 2020 but the new plan would run until June 2022).
However there was a possible hint of good news yesterday after the MP for Taunton Deane, Rebecca Pow, tweeted to say that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) would support her calls for an extension. “Positive response from [Margot James MP] in relation to the need to extend the period for state aid for delivering [CDS] broadband to harder to reach areas,” said Rebecca (pictured top – meeting DCMS).
By the sound of things HM Treasury (Chancellor Philip Hammond) will still have to give approval before CDS can proceed and it’s unclear whether the EU will also then need to run an additional check under State Aid rules, which might be complicated by the on-going Brexit shenanigans. Meanwhile locals in Devon and Somerset continue to wait anxiously for a resolution.
Unless a solution is agreed soon then even revised mid-2022 completion date may need to be pushed back again.