BT was being quizzed by Suffolk County Councillors today on the day MPs accused it of ‘ripping off’ taxpayers over rural broadband.
The county’s scrutiny committee had already decided to question BT and council officials on the progress of the project, which is partly funded by Suffolk’s £11.68 million share of the £230 million the Government has invested nationally when Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee criticised the Government and BT’s handling of it.
The committee had called in the representatives to question them and seek reassurances that it was on track.
The committee said it would seek more information on plans to implement the programme, ask what progress was being made, the extent to which the programme recognises rural broadband need and value for money.
A key line of questioning for BT was expected to be the extent to which the company is improving services in its own, identified, commercial areas, separate to those being funded by the public sector.
Thought the roll out is primarily aimed at improving rural broadband in areas where commercial providers would get little return, the first batch of areas connected included Moreton Hall Industrial Estate and the Buttermarket area of Bury St Edmunds’.
The county says by the end of September 2013, the £40 million Better Broadband for Suffolk programme will have made it possible for 2,500 properties to connect to superfast broadband three months ahead of schedule.
Councillor James Finch, chairman of Suffolk County Council’s Scrutiny Committee, said: “The Better Broadband for Suffolk programme is critical for the future economic prosperity of the county, which is why the Scrutiny Committee wishes to look at it in detail.
“We’re interested in making sure the programme is focused, on target and delivering what Suffolk really needs.”
But yesterday Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee accused the Government of mismanaging the roll out by awarding all 26 county contracts to BT.
It said: “The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s design of the rural broadband programme has failed to deliver the intended competition for contracts, with the result that BT has strengthened its already strong position in the market.”
Its chairman Margaret Hodge said taxpayers had been ‘ripped off’.
BT said: “We are being criticised for accepting onerous terms in exchange for public subsidy — terms which drove others away.”