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UK superfast rollout behind target, say auditors

An official audit of the UK’s rollout of superfast broadband services has found that the deployment to rural areas is about two years behind schedule, with only nine of the 44 rural areas expected to reach targets by 2015, and four areas at danger of missing a revised 2017 target.

The UK’s National Audit Office has found that despite an announcement in 2011 by then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt that 90% of homes would have access to Internet speeds above 24 Mbps by May 2015, delays have meant that this goal has been shifted by the Treasury to 2017.

The NAO has also highlighted concerns that incumbent telco BT is likely to be the only firm to win rollout contracts involving public funds, making it possibly the only beneficiary of GB£ 1.3bn (US$ 1.8bn) allocated to help meet the government’s stated target.

Auditor general Amyas Morse said: “The rural broadband project is moving forward late and without the benefit of strong competition to protect public value. For this we will have to rely on [the Department for Culture Media and Sport's] active use of the controls it has negotiated and strong supervision by [communications regulator] Ofcom.”

Despite this criticism however, research firm Point Topic reports that superfast broadband services now account for one fifth of the consumer market, with the total number of superfast connections passing 4mn last April, thanks to fast deployment by BT in areas deemed economically viable.

Oliver Johnson, chief executive of Point Topic, said: “With Virgin Media, KCom, Digital Region and other smaller players like Hyperoptic there’s more infrastructure competition than ever before but it’s true that there will be significant sections of the country who will not have any chance of superfast for years yet.

Johnson adds that with contracts tying up customers for longer than ever, migration is being delayed even in areas that already have superfast broadband, meaning that it can take 18 to 24 months after deployment before real results can be seen.

Point Topic finishes by saying that online video will be the ‘killer application’ which drives take-up of superfast broadband, and expects that speeds of 30 Mbps will become the norm in most UK households within the next two to three years – even if the government does miss its 2015 rollout targets.

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