IWC 'invalid' analysis makes Rural broadband decision 'illegal' claim

Readers will be aware that earlier in the week, several members of the Isle of Wight council Cabinet approved the recommendation to appoint BT as preferred supplier1 for the roll-out of Next Generation Access (NGA) rural broadband.

The Isle of Wight council assured residents that BT would be held to account2 if they did not deliver the speeds set out in the contract, but local broadband supplier, WightFibre said that the company were not ruling out legal action3 over the procurement process.

We contacted High Point Infrastructure (HPI) and asked for their reaction to the council rural broadband decision, here s what they sent us, in their words Ed

HPI recognises that a number serious issues exist with the scheme proposed by IWC officers.

There are clear EU state Aid Regulation rules that are unambiguous they state that public money cannot be used to subsidise services where they already exist or are planned to exist and that public money must not be used to distort a market.

Illegal decisionIt is clear, demonstrable and obvious to anyone who cares to look that well established, widely used and popular services already exist on the Island within the vast majority of the area proposed for public subsidy. This breaks EU State Aid Regulations and is therefore illegal .

The Open Market Review (OMR) process and incongruously named Public Consultation (PC), that IWC officers are, to our view, hiding behind claiming that no such services already exist and that none are planned is blatantly invalid, as it has failed to recognise the well-documented and long-standing Wiber network coverage that operates within the area proposed for subsidy. It s also a service that many of the Island s best known businesses and hundreds of homes have been using for years.

The OMR and PC processes are therefore invalid as they have entirely failed to recognise reality of the Island s connectivity marketplace and the actual coverage that already exists.

Any decisions based on these invalid processes are themselves, by definition invalid.

Understand councillors positionWe have empathy for the difficult position elected councillors are in when the reports and information made available to them from officers, which is in our view, misleading and incomplete information arising from invalid processes.

It is clearly and obviously not right and not in the public interest for public money to be spent on services in areas where they already exist by established, popular and well used providers.

Terms are a step-change improvement Giving credit where credit is due, we feel that the new proposed contract terms that we are told the Independent councillors have forced through, are a step-change improvement for the community.

At last IWC is demanding specific details and speeds within the proposed contract with BT.

This should not be underestimated by the Island community it is a massive and significant improvement on the previously proposed contract which failed to ask BT for any guarantees or commitments regarding the speeds that will actually be delivered leaving BT free to under deliver and under-perform without breaking any contract terms which would have been a tragedy.

Penalties unknownIt remains to be seen whether BT will accept the more stringent terms and it remains to be confirmed what recourse and redress can occur if BT break the new proposed terms how can they be enforced and what s the penalty if they are broken?

The fact remains though that we already serve the vast majority of the proposed intervention subsidy area with superfast speeds and therefore no public subsidy is required or can be legally applied to those areas.

Shouldn t have to take legal actionIt would be unfortunate if we are forced to take legal action simply to prove that we have existing coverage because council officers have for some reason chosen to state that we have none.

It is clear to all that the officers report stating that there are no providers covering the intervention area and no plans for coverage either, are entirely misleading, inaccurate and disingenuous.

This matter must be resolved quickly otherwise the entire process is farcical.

Image: Wonderlane under CC BY 2.045

References

  1. ^ Isle of Wight Rural broadband: Split Cabinet vote recommends BT to be selected as Preferred bidder (onthewight.com)
  2. ^ BT will be held to account on rural broadband contract says Cabinet (onthewight.com)
  3. ^ Legal action not being ruled out over broadband decision (onthewight.com)
  4. ^ Wonderlane (www.google.com)
  5. ^ Creative Commons licence (creativecommons.org)

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