The Public Accounts Committee has issued a new report into the Broadband Delivery UK project, which claims that the £1.2 billion scheme has serious failings in terms of both competition and openness.
The BDUK project aims to make fixed line superfast broadband of 25Mb or faster available to 95 per cent of premises in each local authority area by 2017, and is being largely delivered in conjunction with BT.
However, the telecoms operator's close ties to the scheme have been criticised, with the PAC previously claiming the fact that most contracts are awarded to BT - and that it is often the only viable bidder - has propped up its "quasi-monopolistic position, which it is exploiting by restricting access to cost and rollout information".
Now, the PAC has taken exception to the fact that its calls for more details regarding rollouts in certain local authority areas - and demand for the publication of seven-digit postcode level coverage data and full transparency of costs - have been ignored, in many cases.
Without such coverage data, the Committee argues that smaller ISP schemes are unable to get funding under the £20 million Rural Community Broadband Fund, as a result of overbuilding by BDUK and BT, which is in contravention of state aid rules.
Although local authorities have been instructed to publish the full data and BT has agreed to do so, the PAC says that requests for the relevant data by rival projects have been ignored
Margaret Hodge, Chair of the PAC, says the government has "failed to deliver" meaningful competition, which has effectively left BT in a monopoly position.
The scheme is designed to help get broadband to areas, mainly rural, where commercial broadband infrastructure providers currently have no plans to invest. Despite our warnings last September, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has allowed poor cost transparency and the lack of detailed broadband rollout plans to create conditions whereby alternative suppliers may be crowded out," she added.
Ms Hodge said that the lack of transparency on costs and BT’s insistence on non-disclosure agreements is "symptomatic" of its exploitation of a monopoly position, to the detriment of the taxpayer and those seeking to access high speed broadband in rural areas.
In response, BT said the Committee's criticism of BT is "inaccurate and unjustified" and noted that it was the only company willing to accept the "challenging terms" on offer and make a "significant investment" in rural areas.
"This was at a time when others walked away when they realised easy pickings weren’t to be had. Claims that BT is a 'monopoly' are simply inaccurate given more than 100 ISPs are offering fibre across BT’s open network," the telecoms giant stated.
It added that most councils have now published coverage maps with its support, with more detailed data set to be released "in due course" when surveys have been completed.