A national programme to roll out fast internet connections is running late – and Northumberland is towards the bottom of a UK “league table” for broadband speed and availability, says the National Audit Office.
It reports that the Government’s original target of delivering super-fast broadband to 90% of the country by 2015 will be missed by almost two years.
Just nine out of 44 local delivery projects are expected to hit the original target, says the NAO, with the delay partly attributed to the EU state aid process taking six months longer than expected.
The NAO also says competition among suppliers has been limited, leaving BT as the only active participant and expected to win all 44 contracts.
At the same time, the latest UK fixed broadband map, issued by Ofcom, shows that Northumberland is behind most other areas of the country for broadband services.
The map ranks counties for their broadband average speed and take-up, the availability of super-fast connection and the percentage of households getting very slow speeds.
Northumberland is ranked at four on a scale in which one is the highest or fastest, and five the lowest or slowest.
In England, only Cumbria, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Rutland, Devon, Somerset and Dorset are ranked as low, or lower than Northumberland.
Last April the county council announced the completion of an ï¿½18.9m deal with BT to roll out super-fast fibre broadband to 91% of homes and businesses in Northumberland by 2016.
BT was awarded the contract after a procurement exercise,. The project is designed to transform broadband speeds across England’s most sparsely populated county.
Yesterday a council spokesman said there had been no change to the scheduled delivery date of 2016. “Access to super-fast broadband is vitally important for businesses and residents right across Northumberland.
“The schemes that we have in place will help us to ensure that over 90% of the county will have access to super-fast speeds in the next few years.”
Head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, said: “The rural broadband project is moving forward late, and without the benefit of strong competition to protect public value.”
Public Accounts Committee chair, Margaret Hodge, said: “The Department for Culture Media and Sport has not had a good enough grip on its rural broadband programme. The programme won’t now be delivered until March 2017, nearly two years late.
“The DCMS wanted the private sector to foot 36% of the bill for the ï¿½1.2bn rural broadband programme. It is now expected to contribute just 23%, leaving the public sector purse to cover the rest.
“DCMS must take more control of the programme to ensure people in rural areas get the super-fast broadband they were promised, at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.”