Hodge lets loose on BT for 'blackmailing' Joe Public

Super-fast broadband has got the telecom giant in trouble...again

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 18 Jul 2013
The UK’s chief finger-wagger Margaret Hodge has opened another can of whoop-ass – this time it’s BT in the firing line. Hodge, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, had a go at BT’s director of strategy Sean Williams in Westminster yesterday over the delays to (not so) superfast broadband.

Hodge, not known for mincing her words, blasted Williams over the ‘ridiculous state of affairs,’ and accused the director of ‘Alice in Wonderland stuff’ when he defended the BT’s lack of pricing transparency.

The crux of the issue is BT’s request for government subsidies to connect fibre into a housing development in Barking. Labour MP Hodge said: ‘I could understand if it was in Cumbria, but this is in outer London. You’re blackmailing the public by saying: "We’ll only do it with a subsidy".'

Williams tried to justify BT’s asking for support by saying the payback from BT’s £2.5bn investment in certain rural areas would take 15 years to come through, therefore subsidies would be needed - but Hodge wasn't impressed.

The meeting in parliament was called following the report from the National Audit Office earlier this month which found the plans to roll out superfast broadband to 4.6 million Britons in rural areas is running 2 years late.

It’s not an ideal situation but some might argue that since it’s been a good 30 years since BT’s privatisation, the government doesn’t really have the right to continue to tell BT what to do.

BT says it's surprised by the accusations from government.
‘We are shocked and mystified by some of the ill-informed comments played back by members of the committee today,’ BT said in a statement.

‘Deploying fibre broadband is a complex long-term investment, but that was ignored today as MPs prioritised soundbites over analysis.

Long-term indeed. At this rate, those living in rural areas may as well grab some shovels and start laying the cables themselves if they want a piece of BT’s super-fast interwebs.

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