There’s a worrying tendency in the BBC’s reporting of Government and local council investment in faster rural broadband to so simplify the story that it borders on the misleading.
Both local and UK Government are bankrolling faster broadband in areas where the UK’s telecoms sector has decided it’s economically and commercially unviable to invest themselves – for example because the cost of the work could never be recouped from the relatively small population of some towns.
Because having fast broadband is increasingly important to residential and business users and the wider UK economy, the keepers of the public pursestrings decided to offset some of the associated costs and invited tenders from the commercial sector.
Although a number of companies expressed interest, all but BT eventually declined to bid.
Because BT is the only bidder for the various contracts, it’s unsurprisingly so far won them all – but you have to read all the way the bottom of the BBC’s latest story before you get any context for the firm’s success rate.
That’s more than a little naughty because it risks creating a perception in readers’ minds before explaining why this has happened.
And the naughtiness is repeated when BBC flag up the phrase “Quasi-monopoly” as a nice bold heading and repeat it a few lines below without explaining why there’s actually not a monopoly being built.
While it’s certainly true that the BT Group has won all the tenders to date, the part of the company doing the work isn’t the part you and I buy our phone, TV or broadband from – BT Retail. Or, if you’re a business, BT Business.
Instead it’s being carried out by Openreach, the BT division which not only builds and maintains most of the UK’s copper and fibre telecoms network, but has to wholesale it to other phone and broadband providers.
Openreach sells network access to Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet and EE (and many others) as well as to BT Retail and BT Business which are run within the BT Group as wholly separate companies from Openreach.
Because Openreach has to sell access to any ISP, residents in rural areas being served by the BDUK project will not be forced – as the “Quasi-monopoly” phrase might suggest – to use BT as their phone or broadband provider and will be able to sign-up with any company choosing to offer services in their area.
This is because the UK Government and regulatory system believes in inter-operability as a way of driving competition.
If Sky, TalkTalk, EE and BT all had to build their own networks we customers would end up paying a fortune every month as they sought to make back their costs.
As it happens, even if non-BT bidders won some contracts, they’d have to make their network available to other service providers and ensure it was compatible with all the number porting, service provider swapping rules we consumers take for granted.
This requirement was to ensure public money didn’t create lots of small regional monopolies and is rumoured to be why some companies declined to bid for the work.
But none this tends to be reflected in the BBC’s coverage of the BDUK project which repeatedly veers towards the simplistic ‘here’s an organisation/politician slagging off a big business, copy and paste what they have to say’ approach.
As the BBC’s so keen on questions about value for public cash, perhaps it ought to consider whether such a one dimensional approach to news is in Licence Fee payers’ interests.