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UPD2 Smaller UK ISPs Asked to Help Find the Final Rural Broadband Areas

Thursday, July 4th, 2013 (7:46 am) - Score 777

The government’s culture secretary, Maria Miller, has written to a group of smaller UK ISPs (altnets) and called them to a 15th July 2013 summit with BT where she will attempt to find a solution to the “final 10%” problem (i.e. nobody is quite sure where it is).

As most people know the government is spending £780m through its Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) office to help “nearly” 90% of people in each local authority area gain access to a superfast broadband (25Mbps+) service by the end of 2015, which is now also intended to hit 95% by 2017 (here).

But so far BT has won all of the major state aid supported contracts and it views roll-out data as confidential. This is important because, as Ed Vaizey said, “publicly-funded projects are prevented by the state aid rules from overbuilding other projects which have been notified at that point”.

In other words smaller ISPs that seek to target the final 5-10% often struggle because they’re not sure where it is or will be after BT is done (we covered this in more detail here), which isn’t helped by councils that refuse to recognise related altnet services that have already been deployed. The new meeting is an attempt to resolve that impasse.

Maria Miller said (The Telegraph):

There is widespread concern that funding is not being allocated to certain projects because there is not sufficient clarity on which premises actually find themselves in ‘the final ten per cent’.

I am determined to find a way of remedying this situation, by ensuring you have access to the information you need. I would therefore like to invite you to a session with myself, Ed Vaizey and senior representatives of BT to ensure we can provide you with the information, and the support, you need.”

In fairness BT itself can’t always be sure which areas will be left off its roll-out until later in the process, yet this can result in a situation where the goal posts are almost always in flux. As a result getting any answer, without direct government intervention, could be extremely difficult.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for BT reiterated its commitment to improving national broadband services and added that “we are yet to receive full details of the proposed summit but we will of course be supportive“. Many smaller ISPs argue that anything being deployed through the use of public funding should not be protected by the usual commercial sensitivities.

UPDATE 10:52am

Here’s a comment from the Independent Networks Cooperative Association.

INCA Statement

It is completely crazy that funding has been allocated and good projects are ready to go, but they are being held back by BT’s insistence on secrecy. BT’s BDUK funding is from the public purse, it must be in the public interest to know which areas will be covered and which need to seek alternative provision. RCBF projects can help us show the way to good, future-proofed solutions in those areas. We say let’s get on with it.”

UPDATE 3:02pm

Here’s the full letter from Maria Miller.

Maria Millers Letter

I am writing to you because of your interest and involvement in developing broadband solutions which will help us reach the final ten per cent – those premises which are not due to receive superfast broadband under the Government’s £530m Rural Broadband Programme.

The Rural Community Broadband Fund has been established to help provide funding to ensure we reach some of those hardest to reach areas. However, we are aware there is widespread concern that the projects have not been able to identify the 10% areas necessary to enable applications under the Fund to be progressed.

I am determined to find a way of remedying this situation, by ensuring you have access to the information you need. I would therefore like to invite you to a session with myself, Ed Vaizey and senior representatives from BT to see what can be done to provide you with the relevant information, and the support, you need to determine how your applications should be progressed.

I would be grateful if you come to a meeting at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s offices at 12.30 on Monday 15th July to discuss this matter.

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Hmm… If I was one of the smaller altnets that had been approached (I am not as I guess I am far too small!) I would be VERY wary about getting involved with this.

    Given the approach taken thus far by BDUK and the Govt, I would not trust them one inch not to take the info on where the problem areas are and then simply hand over another wedge of cash to BT to “solve” the issue at the expense of the altnets’ own infrastructure.

    Or maybe I am just getting toooooo cynical in my old age! 🙂

  2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

    The problem is more that altnet’s aren’t sure why they should build in the first place, so it’s more about getting some useful information from BT than the other way around.

    As the article says, this is compounded when some councils refuse to recognise existing networks. So then you have a situation where the council is effectively saying that BT could potentially upgrade an area where superfast FTTC/P etc. already goes and use public money to do so.

    It’s a tricky issue for both sides but I also think it’s important not to simply blame BT, which is a commercial operator and will naturally do whatever it can to protect their investment. The power is with regulation and government.

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Let’s assume that BT’s full roll-out info is available – how does that make it economically viable for alnets to deliver services to the final x% (and I don’t mean just those with line of sight for Fixed Wireless)? We know that BT have the economics of scale to manage the risk (on infrastructure cost and take up) at the price the consumer and the state are prepared to pay between them, because they’re doing it. Who else is, apart from the schemes which are already taking place under the present regime?

    Why haven’t altnets addressed the known large urban concentrations of poor connectivity which are already known about from any cursory search on the internet, if it’s just a question of “we don’t know where to go”. Are they blind, stupid and lazy? (Some of them aren’t and they’ve shown it by their expansion already – I’m lucky enough to be with one of them, and I’ve never heard them whinge).

    BT is a monolith that treads on others’ toes, but that’s life in any field of endeavour. Not a problem for the consumer who has the choice.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Economic viability differs from ISP to ISP and area to area, there is no single answer, but with so many smaller projects taking place around the country, most without public funding and some that are quite a few years old, then clearly alternatives can and do work.

      Similarly some ISPs, such as Hyperoptic, do focus on urban areas. But most don’t due to natural development (i.e. related projects often grew from rural communities that wanted to build their own solution) or the assumption that big commercial ISPs can already make the case for private sector investment in most urban areas.

      Urban areas can also be harder for a community project to tackle as expensive street works are problematic unless you have special permissions and arrangements. It’s a lot easier for rural areas where everybody seems to know each other and the land. No huge buildings or masses of tarmac to deal with.

  4. Avatar Martyn says:

    I am one of the altnets, one of the larger (I think) and to my knowledge we have not received a letter. We have not had any solid evidence from the county councils that show where BT aren’t going but we know where they are, the places we and others have just built superfast networks using private and public finances. What a shambles.

  5. Avatar Tim robinson says:

    I’m also an altnet – in Maria Miller’s constituancy (Basingstoke) and I have not received an invitation. So I’ve rung up her office to try and arrange one. Let’s see if it happens…

  6. Avatar Martyn says:

    Mark, do you know anyone who actually received a letter or anyone out there seeing this let us know!

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      INCA probably knows and B4RN received one.

    2. Avatar Martyn says:

      In touch with INCA now, thanks.

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