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UPD UK Government Creates Confusion with Talk of 15Mbps Broadband

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 (10:09 am) - Score 946

The government has caused confusion after yesterday’s crucial Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) industry day, which was supposed to help resolve some long standing problems and design a way forward, created more questions than it answered.

The primary focus of the meeting between ISPs, mobile operators and the government was to discuss how the BDUK framework might need to change in order for the government to spend its additional £250m and extend the previous target, to reach 90% of the population with superfast broadband (i.e. “greater than 24Mbps“), to the enhanced goal of 95% by 2017.

In particular mobile broadband operators wanted a greater role in the BDUK process (here) and smaller altnet ISPs were hoping to solve the stalemate over release of funding from the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) scheme, which would be used to connect the final 5-10% of mostly rural areas with faster Internet access (here).

Unfortunately the RCBF cannot easily distribute grants if BT, which has so far won all of the BDUK contracts, and Local Authorities refuse to provide detailed information about where their BDUK funded superfast broadband networks will go. In fairness this is difficult for BTOpenreach to do until they’ve been able to complete the necessary engineering survey work; plus deployment plans often change as the work progresses.

In August the culture secretary, Maria Miller, effectively threatened to withhold the extra £250m from local authorities unless they tackled the RCBF issue (here) but this appears to have had little impact and most projects are only releasing vague coverage maps (though some, such as Dorset, have still been able to do a half-decent job).

According to Computer Weekly, sources at the meeting suggested that the government offered some “positive noises” about embracing altnets but also admitted that related ISPs might end up having to wait until after BT had completed the BDUK funded rollout before they could access RCBF funding.

A Government (DCMS) Spokesperson said:

We did explain that information about the exact location of the final 10% would reveal itself in a phased manner as the implementation actually takes place – the majority of which is in 2015/16 – and that the delivery model we use will have to work within that constraint.”

The government also triggered fresh confusion over how it explains and defines “superfast broadband“, which is currently a reference to internet download speeds of “greater than 24Mbps” or 25Mbps+ if you prefer. It should be said that Ofcom now defines it as 30Mbps+, which mirrors the stance in Europe.

The government has reaffirmed that this is still their goal but, under BDUK state aid rules (here), connections have to meet a minimum speed of 15Mbps some 90% of the time during peak times in the target intervention area (i.e. technical capability).

This is necessary to cover the impact of things like Traffic Management or local network congestion (i.e. the connection might be able to do 30Mbps+ but other factors can often result in slower speeds), although at the same time some fear it being used as an excuse for failing to deliver a truly superfast service. But the rules do somewhat attempt to protect against such an outcome.

At the end of the day you get what you pay for and £1.2bn is a drop in the UK telecoms ocean. We can’t blame the government for trying to make a little go a very long way, although the extra funding should perhaps be opened up to more than just BT.

UPDATE 1:42pm

Added a link to the NGA state aid rules for a little clarification.

Leave a Comment
18 Responses
  1. Avatar GNewton says:

    “although the extra funding should perhaps be opened up to more than just BT.”

    BT should never have received taxpayer’s money in the first place, it is not poor. It would have eventually filled in slow spots and not spots with faster broadband services on its own. And had the fibre-tax been dropped, other altnets would have had a chance to deploy alternative networks more easily.

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      “It would have eventually filled in slow spots and not spots with faster broadband services on its own.”

      No evidence to say when that would happen
      No evidence to say it would ever happen

    2. Avatar JNeuhoff says:

      @GNewton: Don’t pay any attention to FibreFred, he is a hopeless case, always ready to defend his beloved BT, even if they can only deliver poor quality copper VDSL. With only 10 to 20 percent average takeup, where available, and with up to half of the VDSL lines not even faster than 40mbps, everybody but him can see that this is neither the future, nor is this a vital utility.

      Quite a few taxpaying forum member have have expressed their concern about not wasting public money on a monopoly company who has no need for it.

    3. Avatar Gadget says:

      One of the basic requirements for a white area is that there are no plans for any operator to deliver NGA services for the next 3 years. http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/243212/243212_1387832_172_1.pdf

      Since that is the case then the question if BT would have gotten around to them eventually is asked and answered – not within 3 years of the initial consultation.

  2. Avatar Phil says:

    Stop calling 15Mbps as superfast broadband which it isn’t!

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I think that’s partly the point of the article Phil :).

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      This is what the UK told the EU with respect to this, and it’s enshrined in the State Aid approval/guidelines document (bit long, I’ve snipped out a fair bit, but all highly relevant). Is the government in a position to “make a choice?” and comply at the same time?

      (7) The UK defines “superfast broadband as speeds greater than those available on current generation network infrastructure, and which is delivered over next generation networks capable of providing at least 30 Mbps download speeds.

      (12) As a secondary objective, where an area is unlikely to receive more than the minimum broadband speed of at least 2 Mbps, the scheme aims to enable communities within those areas to secure NGA infrastructure or NGA infrastructure upgrades capable of delivering superfast broadband speeds.

      (41) Step change: Public funding granted via the BDUK scheme shall ensure a “step change” …

      (42) As examples, in case of fixed networks, an upgrade of an ADSL network (capable to provide 2-6 Mbps download speeds) to an FTTC networks with significant speed gains (capable to provide at least 30 Mbps download speeds) and significant investments needs could be considered as a step change.

      (34) Transparency: in order to ensure a high level of transparency for the use of public funds in the scheme, the UK set up a central website, where all information related to the BDUK scheme will be published.
      (35) The information that will be available will include inter alia (too long to post here)
      (36) Successful suppliers of local and community broadband projects will be required to provide information on the new subsidised infrastructure to BDUK

      (61) All subsidized projects under the BDUK scheme shall comply with the transparency requirements set out in paragraphs (34) to (36) above.

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:


      ..where it says:

      “must be designed in anticipation of providing at least ~15Mbps download speed to end-users for 90% of the time during peak times in the target intervention area, as demonstrated by industry-standardised or reliable independent measurements;”

    4. Avatar DTMark says:

      “The role of Next Generation Access technologies in addressing superfast broadband market failure under the UK’s State aid scheme”

      Addressing? (giggles) or entrenching…

      I see what they’ve done there. What the document basically implies, or rather how I infer it, is that the technical solution must be capable of providing 30Mbps download speeds (even 3G can qualify on that one) without qualifying “to whom”.

      It then goes on to indicate a lower bound of 15Meg **to end-users** (note that bit doesn’t appear in the bit about 30Meg) for only 90% of the time.

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Is this article seriously misleading? Although in its defence even though who should know better seem to struggle to understand broadband.

    I read the 15Mbps reference simply to mean that it is not acceptable for “superfast” to be capable of providing a 30+Mbps “peak” speed where real-world limitations such as contention or traffic management (some of which may be unavoidable if you want to manage a mass-market network effectively) may reduce that throughput to below 15Mbps in any circumstances. Leave it out by all means so we’re just interested in “peak” headline speeds; and let contention and traffic management have whatever effect they will, with latency, jitter and everything else that affects the quality of a connection. Nice and simple and it would at least mean that any complaint could easily be dealt with by “Ah, but the peak theoretical speed for your connection is over 30Mbps so we’re providing you with a superfast connection”. That’d stop people complaining, and they can go away and get a life instead of worrying.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I don’t believe it’s misleading, the article is intended to focus on the issue of altnets and to highlight the “Confusion” created by talk of 15Mbps alongside the “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) aims from CW’s piece.

  4. Avatar Roberto says:

    15Mb….. Optical disc format is dead and the government and BTs vision is spending billions to allow you to watch your fave film in the future less than 90% of the time (see netflix story) LOL

    Good meeting, more confirmation FTTC and BDUK is a waste of time and money.

    1. Avatar Phil says:

      I agree 100% It’s appear they went backward not the future!

  5. Avatar Slackshoe says:

    Far too little, far too late.

  6. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    I have nothing to add….

  7. Avatar Phil says:

    Sack her Maria Miller know nothing about the future of 4K streaming need at least 100Mbps broadband not 15Mbps.

    1. Avatar Roberto says:

      15Mbps will be the average bitrate for a movie. H.265 uses varible bitrate for its encodes so a stream at various points in a film could be anything from 5Mb to 30Mb based on that figure and what their CEO said which was…
      “It’s around 15 megabits per second,” Hastings said. “It’s not too bad. If you’ve got a 50-megabit connection you’ll be fine.”

      4K 3D streams which will also obviously appear sooner or later will obviously also need more than that.

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