The roll-out of superfast broadband in Northumberland has fallen behind, with BT/Openreach going into default on its government-subsidised contract.
The BDUK project aims to provide fibre broadband to those areas not covered by commercial roll-outs, with BT winning the contract for Northumberland, which is managed by the county council’s iNorthumberland team.
But it has been reported that the telecoms giant is in default on a number of contracts around the country, including Northumberland, due to failing to meet the targets for the expected number of premises being connected.
A spokesman for the iNorthumberland programme said that it has ‘agreed a plan with the company and BDUK to get the work done as quickly as possible, and by December 2019. Regular review meetings will be held to monitor progress’.
He added: “This is a challenging and complex engineering project, and while all the partners are disappointed with the delay, we are determined to deliver better broadband to the county’s most isolated communities and areas.”
However, one county councillor, who represents a large rural ward, says the local authority should take a stronger line with BT, which has ‘been somewhat lackadaisical in resolving the issue’.
Rothbury’s Coun Steven Bridgett continued: “The fact that work is now several months behind is very troubling, particularly for the residents and businesses in rural Northumberland who are the ones waiting on these upgrades.
“At the end of the day, the council is the contract holder and BT has been letting down the residents of Northumberland by not delivering what they are contractually obliged to do, on time.”
He also called for county councillors to be kept up to date on issues like this in the future.
However, despite the setback, tens of thousands of homes and businesses have already benefited from the iNorthumberland contract.
The iNorthumberland spokesman added: “An independent assessment has shown that more than 93 per cent of homes and businesses in Northumberland now have access to superfast broadband speed of 24Mbps or above.
“The current schedule of work through the iNorthumberland programme is now expected to see this reach at least 95 per cent by the end of 2019.
“The iNorthumberland contract between Northumberland County Council and BT has already made fibre broadband available to around 59,000 premises across the county.
“A further £2.2million reinvestment announced last year is bringing the high-speed technology to some of the most expensive and technically difficult-to-reach communities in the county.
“The council is ambitious to ensure effective connectivity across the whole county and wants to see superfast broadband delivered to the final five per cent of homes and businesses as well continuing the roll-out of full fibre broadband.”
BT/Openreach were contacted for comment, but no response has been received as yet.
In terms of the national picture, as reported by ispreview.co.uk, an Openreach spokesman said: “We have successfully completed all of our projects to date, and we fully expect to deliver those we’re still working on.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service