Rural broadband rollout taking too long, says NAO

Almost as the government announced that it was going to miss its target for rolling out superfast broadband, so did the National Audit Office (NAO) release its report criticising how long it is taking.

The NAO confirmed Danny Alexander's claim that the plan to have superfast broadband rolled out across 90 per cent of the UK by the year 2015 would not be met. Instead, it said 2017 was a more realistic date for this target to be achieved. What's more, the NAO claims that a mere nine of the 44 local projects will have 90 per cent superfast broadband coverage by the original target.

It criticised the lack of competition for the project, which left BT as the only bidder, as well as the Department of Culture's failure to achieve transparency over the cost of BT's bids.

However, it also noted that part of the reason why the project is taking so long is that it took six months longer than hoped for it to be approved by EU State aid initially.

The slow rollout of superfast broadband means businesses and consumers in certain parts of the country will have to wait longer for faster internet access. Superfast broadband is preferable for those using technologies such as unified communications, which is particularly useful for those travelling on business or who work remotely.

Head of the NAO 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’s active use of the controls it has negotiated and strong supervision by Ofcom."

Indeed, Ofcom is tightening its grip on BT as it plans to make the company reduce charges to broadband suppliers. As well as forcing costs down, it also plans to reduce minimum contracts from one year to one month. It is introducing these measures to increase competition. Yet the regulator did not explicitly set a cap for BT's prices, saying only that they have to be "fair and reasonable".