Council leader hits out at rural broadband 'gagging order' header image

A council leader has criticised an agreement that means information about the rollout of super-fast broadband in Devon and Somerset cannot be shared with the general public. 

Mark Williams, joint chief executive of East Devon District Council and South Somerset District Council, told Western Morning News he is unhappy with the gagging order that is in place concerning the project. 

BT is currently in the process of bringing super-fast broadband to the region through the Connecting Devon and Somerset programme. However, all of the local authorities involved with the scheme - with the exception of those led by Mr Williams - have signed a non-disclosure agreement that means information about the project cannot be made public. 

"To be presented with a non-disclosure agreement was a highly unusual thing in terms of a programme that’s been funded by public money. That was the initial concern," Mr Williams stated. 

"The public are interested in matters of transparency and they would expect their council to tell them things," he added.

At present, even Freedom of Information Act requests have been unsuccessful in trying to get more information about the Connecting Devon and Somerset programme disclosed to the public.

This issue is not restricted to the south west and similar situations are occurring across the UK. It was recently discussed at a Public Accounts Committee hearing, in which BT's group strategy director Sean Williams claimed local authorities were responsible for withholding facts regarding broadband rollouts. 

The lack of details surrounding these schemes is a problem for people, particularly those in rural areas, as they are left in the dark about whether they will receive an improved service or not. It also makes it difficult for smaller internet service providers to bid for funding from the Rural Community Broadband Fund as they do not know which locations will be omitted from the state and BT rollout.

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