A PLAN to roll out super-fast internet in rural areas was approved by the Isle of Wight Council cabinet last night (Tuesday).
Having deferred their decision last month, members have now agreed to appoint BT as the preferred supplier for the £6.4m project, despite claims by local businesses that they were better placed to provide the service.
The cabinet voted to appoint BT — by five votes in favour to none against, with three abstentions — with conditions stipulating 96 per cent of premises should have immediate access to 24mbps super-fast broadband once the project was completed in September, 2015.
An extra £200,000 will be allocated to appoint a project team to ensure BT delivers the contract to the Isle of Wight Council's specifications.
Economy cabinet member Cllr Shirley Smart said she believed concerns over inadequate speeds and coverage had been addressed.
"The delivery of this project is crucial to the future economic wellbeing of our Island if we wish to be seen as a place where businesses can grow," she said, warning the Island could otherwise fall behind the rest of the UK.
Cllr Jonathan Bacon suggested many concerns over the project stemmed from a dislike of BT as a service provider, but reiterated the contract was only to install the broadband infrastructure.
Last Thursday the overview and scrutiny committee heard claims the appointment would be a waste of public money, however it went on to support the project with BT as the preferred bidder.
Frazer Munro, of Highpoint Infrastructure Ltd, on the Isle of Wight, told that committee any decision which used public money to distort a market where commercial services already existed, could damage local providers.
He said his company already offered super-fast coverage to around 85 per cent of the Isle of Wight at far higher speeds in some areas than the BT project. He said they were shocked their representations, including maps and reports for every Island postcode, were not considered during the council’s open market review when providers were invited to present evidence on how they could roll out the service.
"Highpoint offers an alternative infrastructure which is open to 60 or more providers. Those who want fast speeds in rural areas can achieve them through companies like mine," he said.
WightFibre boss John Irvine has also slammed the council for favouring BT over local companies and said the project would not even deliver true super-fast broadband speeds of 30mbps.
Defending the authority, economy and environment director Stuart Love said two companies were taken forward during the review but neither were able to demonstrate they were able to deliver.
He said the government’s National Competency Centre had recognised the robustness of the council’s open market review as part of the procurement process.
*An Isle of Wight Council spokeswoman said reports suggested approximately 1,100 jobs could be created or safeguarded in the seven-year period following installation on the Island.
She added: "It will be a specific requirement of the contract that there will be a robust protocol between the council, BT and Island Roads to avoid unnecessary digging up of the highway more than once which will also help to save cost for all parties.
She added: "Of the approximately 72,000 premises on the Island, 52,000 are planned to be covered by commercial deployments such as those of BT Openreach.
"The remaining 20,000 homes and businesses, with no next generation broadband access, fall under this mainly rural areas project."
The contract is subject to stringent requirements according to the Isle of Wight Council:
• 99 per cent of Island premises to have next generation access (NGA) infrastructure.
• 97 per cent of premises in the intervention area to have an NGA connection of at least 30mbps.
• 87 per cent of premises in the intervention area to have immediate access to superfast broadband speeds of 24mbps post project.
• 96 per cent of Island premises to have immediate access to superfast broadband speeds of 24mbps post project.