Further blow for Somerset broadband rollout as Truespeed contract terminated
By Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
30th Sep 2022 | Local News
Somerset households face further delays in getting superfast broadband after one of the new companies tasked with the rollout had its contract terminated.
Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) was created to oversee the roll-out of superfast fibre broadband in areas across the two counties where it was not viable for commercial providers to put in the necessary infrastructure.
The programme has seen numerous setbacks since its inception, with the contracts for phase two having to be re-procured after Gigaclear failed to deliver on time.
History has now repeated itself after Truespeed Internet – one of three companies which replaced Gigaclear – had its contract terminated for "failing to make commitments".
The Bath-based company won the contract in December 2020 to handle all the outstanding premises in North Somerset (including Weston-super-Mare), Bath and North East Somerset, Mendip (including the villages around Frome, Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Street and Wells) and parts of Sedgemoor (including rural areas around Burnham-on-Sea, Cheddar and Highbridge).
CDS programme manager Katriona Lovelock confirmed that Truespeed's contract had been terminated at the inaugural meeting of Somerset County Council's environment scrutiny committee, which took place in Taunton on Wednesday morning (September 28).
She said in her written report: "The contracts were terminated in July 2022, based on Truespeed's failure to meet key contractual commitments made at the time contracts were awarded.
"The contracts were due for completion by December 2024. However, commencement of construction work on the CDS contracts was severely delayed by Truespeed throughout 2021, while it sought to secure further investment in its commercial roll-out – which it planned to deliver in sequence with its CDS commitments.
"Regrettably, securing further investment took considerably longer than Truespeed anticipated. Although Truespeed advised CDS that further funding is now in place, we were informed by the company that it is subject to new investment criteria and limitations.
"This means Truespeed cannot meet its existing commitments in terms of deployment to CDS' contracted communities."
The decision to terminate Truespeed's contract was backed by the government's Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency), with Ms Lovelock confirming that "no public money has been paid to the company under the contracts."
This funding will now be redeployed to the outstanding homes to deliver full fibre connections to "as many eligible homes and businesses as possible" in the contract areas, using the government's gigabit voucher scheme.
Councillor Dave Mansell – whose Upper Tone division comprises the villages between Exmoor and Wellington – warned that some properties may still slip through the net as a result of this change in approach.
He said: "We were fortunate in our area that Technological came along and started building a network with the vouchers.
"Once the contracts were awarded to Airband, it prevented Technological from expanding further and it's left a ragged edge."
Councillor Henry Hobhouse, who represents Castle Cary and the surrounding villages, said: "4G boosters are a very adequate technique to fill the gaps – but when is 5G coming to Somerset?"
Ms Lovelock replied: "Our programme is focused primarily on superfast broadband. 5G is not within the auspices of the work that we do – it is largely being led by the commercial sector at the moment."