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Councillor Says Local UK Broadband Surveys to Have No Useful Impact

Friday, July 26th, 2013 (1:03 pm) by Mark Jackson (Score 501)
fibre optic cable rural broadband b4rn.org.uk

A big part of the government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme was the expectation that local authorities and communities would conduct citizen focused surveys and petitions to help inform the decision about where better internet connectivity was needed. But in the end all that effort might be absolutely worthless.

It’s certainly been a rotten month for the £1.2bn BDUK project, what with the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee both picking the government and BT’s approach to state aid supported superfast broadband roll-outs to pieces (here and here), and sadly it’s not going to get any better today.

In a not entirely unexpected or surprising development the Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Kent County Council (KCC), Mark Dance, has told frustrated locals that all the petitions and surveys they’ve created would effectively be “pointless” because BTOpenreach would ultimately base its decision on the engineers perspective of viability. According to This is Kent, Dance also remarked that it was “not a popularity contest“.

Michael Stokes, Sundridge Councillor and Broadband Campaigner, said:

If we have been wasting our time getting people to sign the petition it would be a disgrace. Kent County Council should be ashamed of itself. We have persistently asked the council if it was worth us carrying on, though I’m not at all surprised at this news.

I had come to the conclusion that as far as the council and BT were concerned we might be wasting our effort but it is still so disappointing to have it confirmed. We consistently asked both parties what the criteria were regarding which areas would be included in the superfast rollout and we never got a straight answer, in fact we never got an answer at all.

But they did keep giving us feedback showing the number of votes in each ward – if they were meaningless why did they keep spending their resources on producing them. If we had known we had no say we could have spent all that time looking into alternatives.”

Surveys and petitions can be a very useful tool and in the right hands the information they reveal is extremely beneficial. But in this world of tick-box politics it’s no surprise that their value has been neglected and indeed we suspect that this will be the case for most of the other Local Broadband Plans (LBP).

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7 Responses
  1. DTMark

    “Mark Dance, has told frustrated locals that all the petitions and surveys they’ve created would effectively be “pointless” because BTOpenreach would ultimately base its decision on the engineers perspective of viability.”

    But, they won’t will they. They will base their deployment plans based on the agreement with those who contracted them to supply 25Meg or better to 90% of residents, and 2Meg to everyone else. The solution was to mix FTTC and FTTP to achieve that, wasn’t it?

    “Those who contracted them” = Kent County Council, no?

    Don’t blame BT for “getting one over on you”. Have a look at the contract that you signed and then question who is to blame. Indeed, let’s all have a look at the contract that you signed, and then we can see where this has gone wrong.

    • Bob

      That seems to be incorrect. With the BDUK program it is down to BBDUK usually the local County Council to decide the rollout schedule and not BT./ I suspect though that many councils will just go along with what BT want to do

      A far better system would have been a cabinet lead demand system. You would register your interest and a Web site would show which cabinet your are on. The number of lines on that cabinet and the total number that had registered to get real commitment a £25 deposit would be put down. This would be full refundable at any time up to the point the cabinet went live even at this stage you would not be commited but would loose the deposit

    • TheFacts

      Assuming that virtually all cabinets will be upgraded it makes no sense to upgrade individual ones based on demand instead of rolling out in the most efficient, financial and engineering, way.

    • DTMark

      “Assuming that virtually all cabinets will be upgraded”

      I’m not sure we can or should assume that. We would need to have a look at the contract to see what was agreed.

      And even if all the cabinets are upgraded for FTTC, that leaves all the areas that doesn’t reach needing FTTP to bring the numbers up to the magic “90% can get superfast / everyone else 2Meg”. Otherwise we get the “Elberton village problem” (page 3 of news at the moment).

      Of course, all of the analysis, street by street, would have been undertaken by the council performing due diligence and agreeing the technology to be used prior to awarding the contract, which would have been on the basis of deliverables.

      So the council can already say with complete confidence who is getting what and when, and would have used the demand-led surveys as part of the decision making process, wouldn’t they….? 😉

    • New_Londoner

      Why would the council need to go to that level of detail, or indeed have the competence to do so?Llook at the “Digital Region” for evidence of competence in this area by local authorities.They should rightly look to contractual clauses rather than there own assessments as the latter would carry no weight should there be a shortfall in delivery.

      The council would have the right to indicate any particular preferences, but otherwise should certainly leave in to their partner, BT in this case, to ensure the maximum coverage for the available budget.

      The flaws in your approach include an assumption that all cabinets are on enabled exchanges – why would you invest in the exchange ahead of a critical mass of cabinets? Equally, why build a fibre spine without sufficient cabinets? What about direct lines? Far better to challenge the supplier to deliver maximum coverage for the available budget, probably essential given the suppler is also part-funding the project anyway. A piecemeal approach like you have suggested would almost certainly result in far less coverage followed by a torrid time with the NAO – and possibly even the muppets on the public accounts committee!

    • DTMark

      I venture that there is something of a paradox in your assessment.

      Local body contracts BT to deliver superfast broadband to 90% and a minimum of speed of 2Meg to everyone else.

      BT carries out detailed study to check viability, against their asset database knowing all the cabinet and premises locations. BT decides to accept contract.

      Council can then say with 100% confidence that all residents will receive 2Meg and can therefore also say with complete certainty which cabinets will be “enabled” since that assessment necessarily would have to have already been made before BT accepted the contract.

      BT can then also estimate which premises will get certain speeds based again on their own asset database accepting that VDSL is a bit of a lottery because of variable line quality, and so may have additional work to perform later on because of the chouce of a DSL based technology.

      On deployment of the cabinets, BT then query the speeds available to end premises, and the local body and BT may together assess the efficacy of has been delivered. If it does not meet the promised speed and coverage objectives specified in the contract, then BT look at network rearrangement, more cabinets, and/or FTTP to infill so fulfilling the contract.

      In any event, the local body is able to give any resident in their county an assurance of the technology they are to receive and an estimated speed supplied by their partner.

      Did I get anything wrong there?

  2. dragoneast

    Good points NL. We’ve had far too much of clever plans that don’t work in the real world.

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