Lack of competition and emphasis on fibre networks is depriving most rural areas of good broadband, Wispire boss claims

Steve Maine chief executive of WiSpire.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Steve Maine chief executive of WiSpire.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Broadband users in the hardest-to-reach areas continue to suffer from poor speeds amid a lack of competition and an emphasis on fibre networks, the boss of a Norwich-based broadband company Wispire has told MPs.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons culture select committee chief executive Steve Maine told MPs that the significant sums of government money which had been 'put at the disposal of [telecoms giant] BT' had had an 'anti-competitive effect' and been to the detriment of other network operators, and the consumer.

He claimed that in less densely populated areas the wireless technology used by Wispire was more cost-effective than deploying fibre networks.

Norfolk County Council launched its Better Broadband for Norfolk partnership with BT in 2011 with local and central government funding which it said had been a 'success story'.

A spokesman said it had almost doubled the amount of access to superfast broadband in the county to more than 80pc three months earlier than scheduled and £9m under budget.

It said it was now aiming to reach 95pc of the county by 2019.

The spokesman said the contract for the superfast broadband roll-out project had been done through a 'competitive procurement process' and Wispire's wireless technology had not qualified under state aid rules.

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But it had advised the government that Wispire could be a feasible option for properties with access to less than 2Mbps, although it had so far not been accepted onto the scheme.

Mr Maine, who heads the company which is owned and supported by the Diocese of Norwich and EDP publisher Archant, said that there needed to be a will to deliver good broadband service to every premise in the UK.

'The reality is that there are already in existence network operators like us and Avanti [a satellite broadband company also giving evidence] that are perfectly willing and able to provide good service in the not-spots – but government policy is not supporting those efforts all.'

'Our economic capacity to deploy our networks on a commercial basis is being undermined by the fact that government supported investments in fibre continue to be made in areas that might otherwise be serviced very economically and commercially by other operators and by people using other technologies,' he added.

Commenting in a wider sense about broadband coverage, and not specifically on yesterday's select committee meeting, a BT spokesman said: 'BT is the only company that has spent billions of pounds delivering broadband to both urban and rural communities, having invested £20bn in our networks over the past decade.

'The roll-out of this exciting technology across the UK takes hundreds of thousands of engineering man hours and includes the installation of thousands of fibre broadband cabinets and many thousands of miles of fibre optic cabling.

'It's a huge engineering task, but the government itself has confirmed that the superfast broadband programme across the UK is 'on track and under budget'.

'Independent data from the regulator Ofcom, the EU and others repeatedly place the UK number one for broadband and superfast broadband when compared to other large EU countries.

'Ninety per cent of UK premises can already get fibre broadband and that will soon climb to 95pc and above.

'More than 500 service providers compete over the Openreach network and the UK is seen globally as one of the most competitive telecoms markets in the world.

'Ultimately, the UK would get far less investment if Openreach was a smaller, weaker independent company not part of BT.'

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