Confusion over West Lindsey broadband

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A £150,000 council loan to the company supplying the district with wireless broadband may have cost it a broadband roll-out worth £500,000.

Emails passed on to the Rasen Mail suggest the WLDC loan to wireless broadband company Quickline may have breached government rules on state aid, thus preventing a roll-out of broadband under a central government project.

Liberal-Democrat councillors raised the claim at a council meeting this month, but council officials say talks are still underway concerning the government/BDUK project.

Quickline says its council loan is commercial, so it has no state aid implications.

However, in an email dated January 7 Owen Williams of Lincolnshire County Council says West Lindsey is “de-scoped“ from a second phase of BDUK as “this will be covered by Quickline Communications.”

On January 28, Steve Brookes, Broadband Programme Manager for Lincolnshire County Council emailed Andrew Field of the Department of Culture’s BDUK programme to “seek your help with regard to the exclusion of West Lindsey District from the Phase 2 Lincolnshire ITT.”

Mr Field replied: “I think the position remains that we agreed that West Lindsey would be excluded from the scope of the phase 2 ITT given that we know Quickline have a loan from the District Council for superfast deployment. As we do not have details on where they propose to build it was agreed that the whole district area would be excluded, to avoid any risk of superfast overbuild.”

At this month’s meeting of the full council, opposition leader Reg Shore said the Phase 2 roll-out has “gone pear-shaped.”

However, director of Resources Ian Knowles said neither the loan or the council’s relationship with Quickline was the issue.

Coun Lesley Rawlings, who has been involved in the BDUK scheme, said the issue was disagreement over the type of broadband being rolled-out.

A council statement issued this week said talks continue with the Department of Culture over West Lindsey’s participation in BDUK’s Phase 2.

Lincolnshire County Council and BT still aim to have superfast broadband available to 89% of properties in the county by April 2016, with 95% coverage by the end of 2017.

“WLDC realise that this project alone would not achieve 100% coverage across all our district, especially the most rural parts. So, the council decided to work with Quickline to further improve basic broadband coverage in some areas,” it said.