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UPD2 UK Councils to Release Rural Superfast Broadband Data to Help ISPs

Monday, Jul 29th, 2013 (8:08 am) - Score 1,127

The UK government’s culture secretary, Maria Miller, has written a new letter to local councils to confirm that she has reached an agreement with BT that should require them to reveal which areas will receive a superfast broadband (FTTC/P) upgrade as part of the £1.2bn Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme.

At present the BDUK project aims to help 95% of people in each local authority area gain access to a superfast broadband (25-30Mbps+) internet connection by 2017 (here), which still leaves 5% out in the cold and this is where smaller ISPs (altnets) have traditionally preferred to focus.

But many related altnet projects, especially those awaiting grants from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), have been stuck in limbo because most of them had no idea whether the areas they were targeting would also be covered by the BT and BDUK scheme. This is crucial because “publicly-funded projects are prevented by the state aid rules from overbuilding other projects” (Ed Vaizey) and so no RCBF grants can be released without access to the coverage data.

On the other hand BT are still surveying many areas and thus complete coverage data is not always available until some months after the contract has been signed. On top of that councils have been reluctant to release the information they do have for fear of a public backlash by those in the final 5-10% (note: the % coverage target varies from county to county). But a recent summit held by Miller (here) and a grilling by the Public Accounts Committee (here) have now changed all that.

Maria Miller’s Letter said (Telegraph):

Concerns have been raised about whether information on the areas which will, or will not, be covered by the current projects can be made available. This information will help other broadband providers and community groups determine whether it is worth their while to develop local broadband projects to fill in gaps in coverage. It will also help clarify the position of those community broadband projects whose schemes are already planned in some detail. I am keen to see this information made available.”

As a result councils are now expected to release the relevant information and have been told to make clear any “limitations“, such as the fact that most of these roll-out maps will be incomplete. Naturally this could still mean some RCBF delays for areas where BT has yet to complete its survey work but it might just be enough to get a few of the more advanced altnet projects moving.

Hopefully this could also encourage councils to stop the growing practice of merely quoting a raw % coverage figure for BT’s fibre optic based FTTC and FTTP network reach, which can result in confusion when this fails to reflect the % that will actually receive “superfast” (25-30Mbps+) speeds (i.e. not everybody within BT’s BDUK FTTC/P rollout will get superfast speeds).

UPDATE 2:36pm

The Independent Networks Cooperative Association has issued the following statement.

Malcolm Corbett, INCAs CEO, said:

This is tremendous news. We wish to thank Secretary of State Maria Miller and the Public Accounts Committee for getting greater openness into the rural broadband programme. Armed with this information local communities, their councils and the private sector can act together to deliver next generation broadband to those who will otherwise wait for many years.”

We hope to have more details shortly.

UPDATE 3:21pm

We asked BTOpenreach what kind of details we could expect but only got a fairly general response, although the use of “if” is interesting.

An Openreach Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

We are happy to work with local councils who wish to publish the details of their respective BDUK deployment plans. Local councils will decide if and when to publish the outline plans on their website.”

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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