The UK government has had the nerve to repackage £440 million clawed back from BT for fixed-line investment as a ‘windfall’.
Since most of that money is likely to be given back to BT to be less rubbish at rural broadband the metaphor would be more accurately described as a polite request to move the pile of apples we gave you slightly to the left.
This is not new money. It has been ‘clawed back’ from the $1 billion or so handed over to BT back in 2013 to do what it arguably should have been doing anyway – rolling out ‘superfast’ broadband (SFBB – defined as 24 Mbps) to the whole country. One string attached to that bribe was that if uptake of SFBB was quicker than BT projected then BT had to hand some cash back. The first tranche of this was announced last year, to the tune of around £130 million, and now BT is relinquishing a further £292 million.
UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has been predictably shameless about publicly pronouncing this as a big deal and indicative of her department (DCMS) doing its job. We’re told the money will be spent on improving rural SFBB access for which, you guessed it, BT is mainly responsible. The state giveth and the state taketh away only to giveth back again straight away to claimeth its doing something.
“Our Broadband Delivery UK programme is giving families and businesses in hard-to-reach areas the fast and reliable internet connections which are increasingly at the heart of modern life,” effused Bradley.
“Strong take-up and robust value-for-money measures mean £440 million will be available for reinvestment where it matters – putting more connections in the ground. This will benefit around 600,000 extra premises and is a further sign of our commitment to build a country that works for everyone.”
Mainstream criticism has focused more on BT’s tendency to deliver SFBB by augmenting copper with things like G.fast as opposed to full-fat fibre. BT has yet to publish any comment, presumably because the whole company has started its Christmas piss-up early planning how best to allocate those funds so it doesn’t have to pay them back again in a few years.